BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — There’s little left for Bronson Koenig (Ho-Chunk Nation)to accomplish at Wisconsin. Over four years, he has done it all, seen it all.
He’s not ready for his run to end.
Koenig made a school-record eight 3-pointers and scored 28 points and fellow senior Nigel Hayes added 16 as NCAA Tournament-tested Wisconsin advanced in the East Region with an 84-74 victory over Virginia Tech on Thursday night.
With Koenig and Hayes leading the charge, the eighth-seeded Badgers (26-9) made all the big plays in the closing minutes to set up a meeting with top-seeded Villanova on Saturday. The Wildcats shook off a sluggish and strange first half and downed Mount St. Mary’s 76-56.
Koenig made five 3-pointers in the second half and the Badgers needed every last one.
“I’ve seen him do a lot of things,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “I’ve watched him win two state championships. Obviously, I’ve watched him for four years here with us. He’s a heck of a player.”
No team understands the survive-and-advance mentality in this tourney better than Wisconsin, the only school in the country to make the Sweet 16 in the last three years. And the Badgers turned to Koenig and Hayes, two of their four senior starters, to get them within one win of another trip to the third round.
“I think it definitely helped a lot for us to have the older guys that we have to have been through some of the runs that we’ve had in the tournament,” said Hayes, who added 10 rebounds. “I think it showed with Bronson, the way he responded to each time they went on a run. Each time they hit a big shot he responded with a big shot. And it’s something that you need.”
Zach Leday scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half to pace the ninth-seeded Hokies (22-11), whose first NCAA visit since 2007 ended quickly.
Wisconsin has won 12 NCAA games in the past four tournaments, a testament to the Badgers’ consistency as Koenig and Hayes have helped push the Big Ten power among the nation’s elite programs.
Koenig’s seventh 3-pointer — and fourth of the second half — put the Badgers ahead 63-59 with 8:21 remaining, and after Virginia Tech got within one, he dropped another corner 3 — that one hitting the front of the rim and bouncing off the backboard before dropping through the net.
“I was feeling it a little bit,” he said with a shrug.
Koenig couldn’t miss, but while he did his damage from the outside for Wisconsin, the Hokies attacked inside with Leday muscling for layups off nice feeds from Seth Allen and Justin Robinson.
Virginia Tech was still within 74-73 when Hayes, who leads all active players with 146 career points in the tournament, scored underneath and completed a three-point play to give Wisconsin a little breathing room.
After Allen missed a 3, Koenig was off the mark, but junior center Ethan Happ scored on a putback, giving Wisconsin a 79-73 lead. Virginia Tech missed a few deep shots and Hayes came up with a huge tap-back rebound before Koenig was fouled and dropped both free throws to make it 81-74.
Ty Outlaw scored 16 points and Robinson had 11 for the Hokies. Allen shook off a toe injury and finished with 10, but was only 3 of 10 from the field.
“We fought as hard as we could,” Leday said. “At the end of the day, they made more winning plays than us. We gave it our all, we just came up short.”
The Badgers have played in 19 straight NCAA tournaments and improved to 15-3 in the round of 64 since 2000.
Wisconsin: With Koenig, Hayes and junior Happ, the Badgers have the necessary know how and talent to make another deep run. They made the title game in 2015.
Wisconsin: A date with the tourney’s top-seeded team.