Max Klesmit helps lead Wisconsin past with Liberty with assertive performance in final minutes of second-round NIT game

Kamari McGee, right, congratulates Chucky Hepburn of the Wisconsin Badgers after a score during the first half of the game against the Liberty Flames in the second round of the NIT Men’s Basketball Tournament.

MADISON – Max Klesmit has contributed in myriad ways in his first season at Wisconsin.

The gritty junior guard from Neenah High School shone brightest late Sunday at the Kohl Center to help the Badgers keep their season alive.

Klesmit scored all seven of his points in the final 2 minutes 11 seconds to help UW rally past Liberty, 75-71, in the second round of the NIT.

Klesmit hit a three-pointer with 2:11 left to give UW a one-point lead, scored on a drive with 42.7 left to give UW another one-point lead and then hit two free throws with six seconds left to secure the victory.

The Badgers (19-14) won consecutive games for the first time since Dec. 30 and Jan. 3 to advance to the quarterfinal round Tuesday or Wednesday against either top-seeded Oregon or Central Florida.

Those teams were scheduled to play at 6:30 p.m. Sunday in Eugene, Oregon. If the Ducks win, they will host UW. If Central Florida wins, the Knights will face UW in the Kohl Center.

Liberty finished the season 27-9.

BOX SCORE: Wisconsin 75, Liberty 71

Coming off a 36-point, nine-rebound performance in the opening round, Steven Crowl hit 7 of 8 shots and scored 14 points in the opening half. He was assessed a Flagrant 1 and a technical with 49.5 seconds left in the half, however, giving him three fouls.

He picked up his fourth foul – a charge – with 10:35 left in the game and headed to the bench. Crowl’s last basket came with 7:10 left in the opening half as he finished with 14 points, two rebounds and two assists.

Chucky Hepburn, who had a combined nine points on 3-for-16 shooting in the previous two games, attacked the lane off the dribble early and often. He scored 19 points in the opening half to help UW to a 37-34 lead and finished with 27 points. He was 0 of 6 from three-point range but hit 9 of 20 shots overall and 9 of 11 free throws.

UW hit 20 of 24 free throws overall (83.3%).

Tyler Wahl, limited to 17 minutes against Bradley because of foul trouble and a bruised knee, contributed 16 points and six rebounds.

Connor Essegian added seven points for UW.

Senior guard Darius McGhee, the three-time player of the year in the ASUN, entered the game averaging 22.6 points per game and shooting 39.9% from three-point range. He came in having scored at least 20 points in 23 games this season and in 58 games overall at Liberty.

McGhee hit just 2 of 8 three-pointers and 4 of 11 shots overall in the opening half but burned UW repeatedly after halftime. He hit just 4 of 15 three-pointers but hit 10 of 25 shots overall and 7 of 9 free throws for 31 points.

Senior forward Kyle Rode hit 4 of 7 three-pointers, though he missed a wide-open attempt late with Liberty down, 72-71, and added 16 points.

Crowl carried UW early before getting into foul trouble and Hepburn took the baton and carried the Badgers to a 37-34 halftime lead.

Crowl scored UW’s first six points and 10 of their first 14. He had 14 points, on 7-for-8 shooting, when he was assessed a Flagrant 1 foul and a technical foul for knocking Liberty’s Shiloh Robinson to the court with UW holding a 35-31 lead.

McGhee hit two free throws for the technical and Robinson hit 1 of 2 attempts for the flagrant foul to cut UW’s lead to 35-34 with 49.5 seconds left.

Hepburn, who earlier scored eight consecutive points in a span of 2:34, scored inside again for a 37-34 lead with 10 seconds left.

McGhee missed a deep three-pointer with two seconds left.

UW twice built a six-point lead early in the second half but Rode brought the Flames back.

Rode, the Flames’ No. 2 scorer at 10.8 points per game, hit a jumper and back-to-back three-pointers in a span of 70 seconds to give Liberty a 48-46 lead with 14:41 left.

When McGhee hit a three-pointer, just his third on 10 attempts, Liberty had a 56-52 lead with 11:42 left.

Crowl exited with his fourth foul – a charge – with 10:35 left and UW down by four.

McGhee answered with a three-pointer 15 seconds later for a 61-54 lead and UW was in trouble.

Wahl hit two free throws and Jordan Davis hit a baseline jumper to cut the deficit to 61-58, but Davis missed an open three-pointer.

Zach Cleveland was fouled by Davis with 7:47 left but made just 1 of 2 free throws for a four-point lead.

The Badgers had a chance to take a lead with 3:50 left when Wahl went to the line for two free throws.

Wahl was 5 of 5 from the line and UW was 14 of 16 from the line to that point. The senior missed the first but made the second to forge a tie.

McGhee drove past Hepburn and converted a tough, left-handed lay-up in traffic for a 67-65 lead with 3:27 left and the Flames immediately called a timeout.

Hepburn missed a three-pointer but so did McGhee.

Klesmit hit a three-pointer, UW’s first in 15 attempts, to give the Badgers a 68-67 lead with 2:11 left but McGhee scored on a drive with 1:54 left to give the Flames a 69-68 lead.

UW took a timeout with 1:40 left. Hepburn was fouled with 1:29 left and made both shots for a 70-69 lead.

Cleveland scored inside over Carter Gilmore with 1:09 left and UW trailed again.

Timeout UW with 15 seconds on the shot clock and 48.9 seconds left in the game. Klesmit scored on left-handed drive with 42.7 seconds left to give UW another one-point lead.

Timeout Liberty with 26 seconds to shoot and 39 seconds in the game.

Rodek missed a wide-open three and a tip by Joseph Venzant missed.

Connor Essegian was fouled with 24 seconds left and made 1 of 2 shots for a 73-71 lead.

McGhee missed a contested drive, Klesmit came down with the loose ball and was fouled with six seconds left.

Klesmit, a 66.7% free-throw shooter, buried both shots and UW was heading to the quarterfinals.

Wisconsin looks to advance to the quarterfinals of the National Invitation Tournament today. Get live updates from Madison during the Badgers’ matchup with the Liberty Flames.

MORE: Wisconsin plays Liberty on Sunday in NIT, hopes to make run to title

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin holds off Liberty in final minutes of second-round NIT game