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How this Wisconsin men's basketball player bounced back after losing starting role

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EVANSTON, Ill. — Jordan Davis got right to the point after a career-best scoring performance in a loss.

Davis, a University of Wisconsin men's basketball junior guard, lost a spot in the starting lineup after 16 games to make way for freshman Connor Essegian.

His response?

"Work harder," Davis said. "Keep your head down. Keep going."

It's the kind of attitude the Badgers need as they continue through an unusual road trip amid a stretch where they've lost four of five games.

Davis was back in the starting lineup Monday and scored 15 points in a 66-63 loss to Northwestern. A head injury to Max Klesmit put him on the court for 29 minutes against Penn State last Tuesday and for 37.5 against the Wildcats.

Klesmit didn't make the trip to Illinois, and with the team heading directly to Maryland afterward in advance of Wednesday's game there's little chance of the transfer from Wofford being available for the back end of the road swing, coach Greg Gard said.

It adds to the challenges for the Badgers, who lost three straight games after forward Tyler Wahl was injured and now face more time without one of their better defenders.

But it opened a door for Davis, and he had a strong performance in Monday's loss.

He hit his first three shots and got to the glass defensively to block a Matthew Nicholson shot in the first half. Davis was 2 for 2 from 3-point range in the second half and checked out only when he committed his fifth foul in the final minute.

"There's a lot of ups and downs in the game," Davis said. "You've got to just keep your head on straight and just keep working hard and stay disciplined. And I think for the most part, we did that. But there was some mental mistakes that we made at the end that we just wish we had back."

UW (12-6, 4-4 Big Ten) missed its last seven shots. It made only seven of 13 free throws in the second half to let a chance for a quality road victory slip away.

Davis was the one picked to leave the starting lineup when the Badgers moved Essegian in. It's the kind of turn of events that can give a peek at a player's character but Gard said there was no letdown from Davis after he received the news.

Instead, he got back in the mix because of Klesmit's absence. Gard was appreciative of Davis' performance against Penn State and again at Northwestern with a defensive matchup against Chase Audige.

The Wildcats guard was 4 of 9 in the first half and 2 of 6 in the second for 16 points.

"I thought he played well," Gard said of Davis. "I thought he forced a couple shots early in the first half. I know he hit a couple and had a couple heat checks where we didn't need to settle. He had a tough assignment with Audige and for the most part did a pretty decent job on him."

The six 3-pointers that Davis took tied a career high. His last points came with 6:23 remaining and gave UW a 57-54 lead.

"His confidence is up," Wahl said. "He's taking the right shots. He's playing hard defense and he's making winning plays for us that give us a chance to win."

But the Badgers couldn't build on any of the leads they took in the second half and it extended a rough stretch of the season.

The Badgers are facing a critical remainder of the week as they try to reverse the slide that has left them back at .500 in the Big Ten. They left for Maryland immediately after Monday's game and have a quick turnaround to prepare for the Terrapins on Wednesday before returning home to play Illinois on Saturday.

The shuffling of the Northwestern game to Monday — two days after it was originally scheduled due to COVID-19 cases with the Wildcats — made the Badgers' challenges tougher.

There were no excuses coming from Davis.

"You've got to keep a short-term memory," Davis said. "You can't hang your head high or too low on the wins or losses but you've just got to come back ready stronger and mentally."

Wisconsin Northwestern Basketball

Wisconsin guard Jordan Davis, right, reaches for a steal against Northwestern guard Boo Buie Monday at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, Ill.

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