Johnny Davis scored 20 points, Tyler Wahl added 18 and a key block, and Wisconsin outlasted Saint Mary’s 61-55 Wednesday to win the Maui Invitational.
The Badgers (5-1) had reached the Maui title game once in four previous tries, losing to North Carolina in 2016. They had a fight on their hands against the Gaels, battling through a physical second half filled with collisions and tumbling players.
Wisconsin delivered the final blows, the biggest Wahl’s jumper and two free throws after blocking Dan Fotu’s shot with 30 seconds left.
Saint Mary’s (6-1) nearly made its first Maui Invitational appearance a memorable one, keeping the Badgers within reach into the final minute. Not being able to finish it off hurts, but the Gaels appear to be back after being relegated to the NIT last season.
Alex Ducas led Saint Mary’s with 13 points.
The Maui Invitational was forced to shift east for the second straight year due to the pandemic.
Las Vegas has become a college basketball hotbed during March Madness and has added early-season tournaments to its hoops resume.
Las Vegas is known as the ninth Hawaiian Island, but the vibe just isn’t the same — bright lights and big arenas instead of island chill and the quaint Lahaina Civic Center.
The championship game had a different feel, too.
No. 12 Houston and Oregon arrived in the desert as the favorites to play for the title. Wisconsin jumped on the Cougars early and held on late to beat them 65-63 in the semifinals. Saint Mary’s made a statement against the Ducks, outclassing them in all phases for a 62-50 win.
The Badgers and Gaels played a tight title game by going to their strengths: Wisconsin pounding it inside, Saint Mary’s flowing and cutting.
The Badgers scored 10 of their 25 first-half points in the paint, but the Gaels made more shots — 13 of 25 — to lead by six.
The second half turned into a wrestling match as both teams turned up the defensive pressure, neither able to gain any separation.
Players repeatedly hit the floor after collisions and Wisconsin’s Lorne Bowman II had to come out after being bloodied over the right eye.
Wisconsin survived all the body shots, finally getting a chance to hoist the Maui Invitational trophy — in Las Vegas.
Wisconsin may be young, but there’s clearly talent on the roster. Three straight wins and a Maui title proved that.
Saint Mary’s had a good run in its first Maui Invitational. A few bad plays down the stretch cost the Gaels a shot at the title.
Saint Mary’s hosts UC Riverside on Monday.
Wisconsin plays at Georgia Tech next Wednesday.