MADISON – One of the many issues Wisconsin coach Greg Gard addressed after his team was bounced in the first round of the Big Ten tournament was the play of Steven Crowl.
Gard reiterated he wanted to see the junior look to score more often, particularly in the lane.
Crowl was aggressive from the opening minute Tuesday night at the Kohl Center, scored from inside and outside and put together arguably his best performance at UW.
He hit 12 of 16 shots overall en route to scoring a college-high 36 points to help the Badgers outlast Bradley, 81-62, in the opening round of the NIT.
BOX SCORE: Wisconsin 81, Wisconsin 62
The Badgers (18-14) advance to the second round to host third-seeded Liberty (27-8) on Sunday.
Liberty advanced with a 62-57 victory over Villanova on Tuesday.
Crowl, who had just eight points and one rebound in 24 minutes in the loss to the Buckeyes, scored from just about every spot on the floor against Bradley.
He hit 3 of 4 three-pointers and 6 of 9 shots overall in the opening half to help UW to a 40-35 lead and finished 5 of 7 from three-point range. He entered the night just 22 of 78 on three-point tries (28.2%).
Crowl also came in shooting just 60.3% from the free-throw line. He hit 7 of 7 attempts Tuesday and grabbed a team-best nine rebounds.
Max Klesmit added 16 points, three rebounds and two assists.
Guards Connor Essegian and Chucky Hepburn, who were a combined 2 of 13 from three-point range and 6 of 22 overall in UW’s loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament, struggled again Tuesday night.
Essegian was 1 of 6 from three-point range and 2 of 11 overall. However, he hit 9 of 9 free throws and finished with 12 points and five rebounds.
Hepburn was 1 of 6 from three-point range and 1 of 7 overall. He finished with just three points but added five assists and three rebounds.
Tyler Wahl (11.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg) was limited to eight minutes in the opening half because of an apparent leg injury and foul trouble. He finished with three points, two rebounds and two assists.
The Badgers hit just 4 of 22 three-pointers in the loss to the Buckeyes but hit 8 of 25 attempts Tuesday and finished 23 of 28 from the free-throw line.
Junior forward Rienk Mast (13.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg) scored 14 points and Zek Montgomery added 12 for Bradley.
Darius Hannah, a junior from Milwaukee Academy of Science, added 6 points and two rebounds for Bradley before fouling out with 6:44 remaining.
The Braves came in at 35.9% from three-point range but hit just 5 of 23 attempts (21.7%) Tuesday.
Wahl fell awkwardly early in the opening half and eventually left the game and went into the locker room. He returned to the game after the Braves cut a 13-point deficit to three but picked up his second foul with 4:54 left in the half and sat out the rest of the half.
Crowl scored from inside and outside in the opening half.
His first three-pointer gave UW a 26-13 lead with 9:44 left in the half. His second gave UW a 37-29 lead with 3:49 left. His third, which he banked in gave UW a 40-33 lead with 39 seconds left.
Duke Deen answered with a tough baseline jumper to cut UW’s lead to 40-35 at the break.
Wahl picked up his third foul of the game, with 17:24 remaining, and headed to the bench.
UW held a 46-39 lead when Wahl exited and back-to-back assists by Carter Gilmore helped the Badgers extend the lead to 50-41 with 15:46 left.
Bradley kept leaving Crowl open on the perimeter and he kept hitting three-pointers. His fifth of the game, in six tries, gave UW a 58-44 lead with 13:14 left and led to a Bradley timeout.
To that point in the game, Crowl had 29 points, seven rebounds and one assist – in 24 minutes of action.
The Braves closed to within 10 points – twice – after that but Crowl’s three-point play gave UW a 62-49 lead with 7:52 left. Essegian’s three-pointer – his first in six tries – pushed the lead to 67-52 with 5:51 left.
The Badgers, 11-9 in games decided by five points or fewer or decided in overtime, could finally relax down the stretch.
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More:What to know about Bradley, Wisconsin’s first opponent in the NIT
Wisconsin vs. Bradley odds:Here’s the spread, money line and point total for the NIT game
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Steven Crowl pours in 36 points in leading Badgers past Bradley in NIT