When the final buzzer sounded in Wisconsin’s 76-70 win over Purdue on Wednesday night, it meant that Evan Anderson, Zach Bohannon, and Ben Brust had played the final game of their careers at the Kohl Center.
Anderson (technically a redshirt junior), Bohannon, and Brust were all honored following their final home game in a Senior Night ceremony that included a nice tribute video featuring highlights from the trio’s time in Madison.
But while each of the seniors are, by all accounts, excellent teammates who have a positive influence on the team’s chemistry, Brust’s absence will be most noticeable to Badger fans everywhere.
After all, Anderson and Bohannon spent their much of their time in Madison on the bench, with neither player getting a start during their careers at Wisconsin.
Brust, on the other hand, has started 65-straight games for the Badgers, during which he cemented his legacy as one of the most productive long-range shooters in the history of Wisconsin basketball.
He has twice in his career tied a UW record by hitting seven 3-pointers in a single game, including an outstanding performance against UNLV in 2011 in which he came off the bench to score a career-high 25 points. In that game, he went 7-for-7 from behind the arc, tying both a Wisconsin and Big Ten record.
And that’s not all.
Just last year, he made 79 3-pointers to set a new UW single-season record. However, it doesn’t look like that record will stand for very long, as Brust has already made 72 3-pointers this season, and has a good chance to surpass his total from the 2012-13 campaign.
On top of all that, he could also conceivably break the Wisconsin record for most career 3-pointers, currently held by Tim Locum. Brust has made a total of 211 3-pointers during his career with the Badgers, which is 16 shy of Locum’s mark of 227. Brust’s season total of 72 3-pointers have come over the course of 30 games, for an average of 2.4 per game. If he were to keep up that pace, he would need seven more games to eclipse Locum’s record.
The Badgers have just one more regular season game remaining (at Nebraska), so they would need to advance to the championship game of the Big Ten conference tournament and then the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament for them to play a total of seven more games this season, which is certainly not out of the question for this Wisconsin team.
But in any event, whether or not Brust surpasses Locum’s record isn’t all that important, because his legacy in Madison is already secure.
Sure, he is best known as being one of Wisconsin’s most prolific 3-point shooters, and he has earned that distinction. But he was so much more than just a long-range sharpshooter to this program, as essentially any die=hard Badgers fan will tell you.
The perimeter shooting has been there for Brust since he first arrived in Madison, but he’s been able to improve in numerous areas of his game throughout his four years with Wisconsin.
On offense, he has gone from being solely a long-range specialist to being a player that can score in a variety of ways. He’ll drive to the basket, pull up for a mid-range jumper, shoot off the dribble, and of course will still fire away from beyond the arc.
Brust’s development from a mostly one-dimensional player on offense to being a viable scoring threat with a diverse shooting arsenal has allowed him to become the 38th player in program history to reach 1,000 career points. He has also proven to be an incredibly tenacious player on both sides of the ball, despite the fact that he’s often the shortest guy on the court.
During the 2012-13 season, the 6-foot-1 Brust recorded five double-doubles (fourth-most in the Big Ten) and ranked 19th in the Big Ten in rebounding, averaging 5.1 per game. Out of the Big Ten’s top 20 rebounders, he was the only one shorter than 6-4.
Brust led the Badgers in several statistical categories during his junior season, including points (388), assist-to-turnover ratio (2.0), and minutes played (1,200). In addition, he also ranked second on the team in assists (79), steals (34), and charges drawn (10).
For his efforts, Brust was a consensus All-Big Ten honorable mention honoree, marking his first career conference accolade.
His senior season has been more of the same, as he continues to play solid, all-around basketball. Brust ranks second in the Big Ten in 3-pointers made (72), third in minutes played (1,046), and second in turnover percentage (5.7), which is also the seventh-best mark in the country.
Not surprisingly, he is at or near the top in many statistical categories among Badgers players. He is tied for the team lead in steals (26), tied for third in assists (41), third in points (375), and third in rebounds (142).
Plus, his free throw shooting has improved dramatically this season. After shooting 67.4 percent from the line last year, Brust has gone 61-for-69 from the charity stripe during his senior campaign. His 88.4 percent free throw percentage would lead the Big Ten, but he is just six free throws shy of qualifying for the leaderboard (a player has to average 2.5 free throws attempts per game to qualify).
While all these stats are nice to try and quantify Brust’s value to the Wisconsin Badgers, it doesn’t quite paint the full picture, because a lot of what he does and the impact he has on a game comes in ways that can’t be found in the box score.
For example, because of his small stature, Brust often ends up guarding guys that are much bigger than him. That would seem to be a significant disadvantage for him, but he’s been able to not only hold his own on defense, but thrive.
In fact, his improvement on defense since his freshman year is one of the areas that has most impressed Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, who recently likened Brust to a mosquito when talking about his play on defense.
“How big is a mosquito? Not very big. But, boy, can it be a nuisance,” Ryan said. “So that’s pretty much what Ben does. If he happens to be on a bigger guy, he’s trying to pester them as much as he can.”
Even though he leads the team in minutes played, he never stops hustling on defense or fighting for loose balls.
In an exhibition game at the beginning of this season, the Badgers held a 24-point lead against UW-Plateville, but Brust showed his aggressive mentality that is a perfect fit for a Bo Ryan-coached team by going all out and diving on the floor for a loose ball. If that’s not commitment to defense, I don’t what is.
The Badgers as a team have committed just 242 turnovers this season, the fewest in the nation. This kind of disciplined play has become a hallmark of Badgers basketball under Ryan, and it should come as no surprise that this trend has continued in 2013-14.
After all, Brust has been on the floor more than any other UW player this season and, as mentioned before, his stellar turnover percentage is the seventh-best in the country.
All of this isn’t meant to suggest that Brust is without any flaws, because that of course isn’t true.
Like many perimeter shooters, he is susceptible to streaks of cold-shooting.
Just recently, he went through a few cold spells where he went 10-for-40 and 1-for-13 from 3-point range.
But the thing is, Brust has always been a player that will continue to shoot with confidence no matter how much he has been struggling. That patience usually pays off for him, as he tends to break out of shooting slumps in a big way.
A great example of this was his performance in Wisconsin’s win against Michigan State in early February.
Brust struggled mightily against the Spartans, missing his first seven 3-point attempts, including six in the first half. However, he finally broke through when his team needed it most, drilling a clutch 3-pointer with just over 3:30 to play, giving the Badgers a seven-point lead.
When you really stop and think about his career in Madison, it’s tough to think of another player in recent memory that better embodied the Wisconsin brand of basketball than Brust.
His play may not make him a household name across the country, but that’s what Badgers basketball is all about, contributions from a variety of solid, all-around players.
Brust is team-oriented, relentless on defense, and well-disciplined, plus he rarely turns the ball over and loves to shoot from beyond the arc. He’s a player with a “never-say-die” attitude that will remain patient and stick with the game plan regardless of what has happened during the course of a game.
Almost all of the qualities that Brust possesses are the same ones that have become synonymous with Wisconsin basketball.
Of course when recapping the career of Ben Brust, it’s impossible not to mention “The Shot.”
Brust’s half-court buzzer beater to force overtime against No. 3 Michigan is without question one of the most memorable moments in the history of Badgers basketball, and will continue to live on in Wisconsin sports lore until the end of time.
He not only hit that miraculous shot, but also hit another clutch 3-pointer in overtime to give the Badgers the lead for good, sending the Kohl Center into pandemonium as the fans stormed the court to celebrate the improbable victory.
Though the Michigan game is what he’ll always be best remembered for, it certainly wasn’t his only memorable performance.
Last month, he scored a team-high 20 points to help lead the Badgers to a redemption win over rival Minnesota. In February of last year he paced the Badgers with 18 points as they outlasted Iowa in a double-overtime thriller, which he followed up with a double-double against No. 13 Ohio State less than two weeks later, recording 15 points and 11 rebounds in a convincing 22-point victory.
But perhaps the greatest performance for Brust personally came earlier this year in a January 5th win over No. 22 Iowa.
The game took place on what would have been the 23rd birthday of his cousin, Anthony Brust. In September 2012, Anthony tragically died from blunt force trauma to the head after the motorcycle he was driving collided with an SUV in Long Grove, Illinois. The driver of the SUV was cited for failure to yield.
Playing with a heavy heart, Brust led the Badgers with 19 points against the Hawkyes, spurring his team to a come-from-behind victory over Iowa.
When you look back at everything that Brust contributed to Wisconsin basketball, it’s really quite remarkable.
Brust may not have been the flashiest or most exciting player on the court, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a player that worked harder to improve his all-around game during his collegiate career.
He also may not have received much national recognition (besides the shot against Michigan) and he was probably one of the most underrated players in the Big Ten over the past few years (he has made multiple 3-pointers in 50 games since the start of the 2012-13 season), but that doesn’t mean his efforts have gone unnoticed by the Badger faithful. The thunderous ovation Brust received on senior night when he was taken out of the game late in the second half tells you all you need to know about how the fans feel about him.
Now, one more regular season game, the Big Ten conference tournament, and the NCAA tournament are all that remain in Brust’s career as a Wisconsin Badger. As has become custom with Bo Ryan’s teams, when key players leave it’s a safe bet that someone will rise to the occasion next year to pick up the slack left by Brust’s departure.
That being said, it will be strange for Wisconsin players, coaches and fans when the Badgers take the court at the Kohl Center for the first time next year without Ben Brust.