MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan has tried free-throw games in practice, drills, you name it.
He has only one explanation left for the Badgers' struggles at the free throw line - demons.
The Badgers overcame another poor night at the free-throw line to hold off Penn State 60-51 Thursday night in the Big Ten Conference opener for both teams, finally finding their shooting touch from the line over the final minute.
"It's a mental thing that has to be overcome," Ryan said. "I've said it before. I'm not changing my story."
Normally a strength for a Ryan-coached team, the Badgers came into the game shooting just less than 65 percent from the foul line and were 13 of 26 Thursday. But Mike Bruesewitz came through at the line in the clutch.
Wisconsin (10-4) led 29-18 at the break and was up 40-27 in the second half before Penn State (8-5) used a pair of runs to get close. The first narrowed a 13-point game to 40-36. The second, after Wisconsin went back up 49-40, pulled Penn State within 50-49.
But the Nittany Lions couldn't get over the hump. After Jared Berggren dunked and was fouled - missing the free throw - to put Wisconsin up 56-51, Bruesewitz hit four straight free throws sandwiched around an off-balance 3-point attempt by Penn State's Nick Colella to ice the game.
"We've got to get used to being in tight games," said Penn State coach Pat Chambers. "Look, it's great to come here and be in a tight game, OK? But we need to take the next step and earn the respect of the league. This would have been a great start, but unfortunately, we're going home with a loss."
Berggren, Ben Brust and Ryan Evans each scored 13 points, while Evans also grabbed nine rebounds. Bruesewitz added 12, and the four combined to score Wisconsin's final 20 points.
Jermaine Marshall scored 19 points for Penn State, and D.J. Newbill added 12.
The Badgers weren't cold only from the free-throw line. They hit less than 39 percent of their shots from the field, including 3 of 17 from 3-point range. But they made up for their shooting woes in two ways. One, the Badgers committed just four turnovers, compared to 15 for the Nittany Lions that Wisconsin turned into 17 points.
Two, Wisconsin grabbed 13 offensive rebounds to nine for the Nittany Lions, even as Penn State outrebounded the Badgers 38-32.
"We've just got to do a better job," Newbill said. "Like I said, they played well and they played hard. But on our end, we've got to do a better job of protecting our end of the glass. They did a great job. We've got to get better."
The Badgers, meanwhile, have their own issues to work out at the free-throw line. Thursday was the fifth time this season they've shot less than 60 percent from the line.
During Penn State's first run of the second half, Evans missed four straight within seconds of each other. Wisconsin rebounded his second miss, and Evans was fouled again only to miss both of those as well. He was 1 of 6 for the game and is now 25 of 66 on the season.
"Sometimes those things can be contagious when some guys start missing," Berggren said. "I just think it's just a mental thing. Guys have to be confident, step up there and knock them down."
PENN ST. (8-5): Taylor 3-6 0-1 8, Borovnjak 4-7 0-0 8, Travis 1-3 0-0 2, Newbill 6-15 0-0 12, Marshall 9-14 0-0 19, Jack 0-1 0-0 0, Colella 0-2 0-0 0, Graham 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 24-52 0-1 51.
WISCONSIN (10-4): Evans 6-15 1-6 13, Bruesewitz 3-6 5-6 12, Berggren 5-7 3-5 13, Brust 5-14 1-3 13, Jackson 1-5 0-2 2, Marshall 0-2 2-2 2, Dekker 1-6 0-0 2, Kaminsky 1-2 1-2 3. Totals 22-57 13-26 60.
Halftime-Wisconsin 29-18. 3-Point Goals-Penn St. 3-8 (Taylor 2-3, Marshall 1-3, Colella 0-2), Wisconsin 3-17 (Brust 2-8, Bruesewitz 1-3, Berggren 0-1, Marshall 0-1, Jackson 0-1, Kaminsky 0-1, Dekker 0-2). Fouled Out-Borovnjak, Newbill. Rebounds-Penn St. 38 (Travis 11), Wisconsin 32 (Evans 9). Assists-Penn St. 7 (Newbill 4), Wisconsin 10 (Brust 4). Total Fouls-Penn St. 23, Wisconsin 7. A-16,156.