After the first 10-plus minutes of Wisconsin's heated in-state rivalry had past, Traevon Jackson came up to Dekker to ask the team's second-leading scorer how many shots he had taken. When Dekker gave his answer of two, Jackson gave an ultimatum.
"He's like, ‘You're too good for that. You've got to be more aggressive, go out and assert yourself,'" recalled Dekker of Jackson's words. "After he told me that, I went out and did that."
Wiser words had never been spoken. An assertive and aggressive Dekker scored a game-high 20 points to lead No.8 Wisconsin to a 70-64 win over in-state rival Marquette Saturday at the Kohl Center.
Dekker also secured 10 rebounds for his second career double-double in the last three games and was the leader of the five players who scored in double figures for Wisconsin (10-0), which moved within one game of tying the best start in school history and broke a two-game losing streak to its I-94 rivals.
"To have a chance to get a win tonight and also play well doing that is very gratifying," said Dekker, who grew up in Sheboygan, a city split between Wisconsin and Marquette fans. "Being a Wisconsin kid, this game means a lot to me."
Dekker was one of many players frustrated with last year's performance against the Golden Eagles, a 60-50 loss in Milwaukee. Dekker was making his first career start in place of injured senior Mike Bruesewitz, and finished a frustrating 2-for-10 with three turnovers in 36 minutes.
Dekker appeared to be on pace for another quiet scoring game with two points in the first 10:19 of the game, but scored 18 points (6-for-9) in the final 29:40 of game after Jackson's pep talk.
"He can stretch defenses and attack the rim," said UW coach Bo Ryan of Dekker. "He's a big who can do multiple tasks and defensively he's trying to get better."
"I was pretty aggressive and pretty efficient tonight, for my standards," added Dekker.
The disappointment wasn't limited to Dekker. In his last two meetings against Marquette, senior Ben Brust was 6-for-24 overall and 3-for-13 from 3-point range, including 2-for-9 last year.
Brust finished with 13, doing most of his damage on a 16-6 run in the second half. His 3-pointer forced a Marquette timeout after the lead was pushed to seven and his 5-0 run at the end of the run put Wisconsin up 44-33, the largest of the game.
Even when it didn't go as planned it worked out. Following a steal and on a 2-on-1, Brust's dunk attempt was rejected by the front iron, but Jackson secured the offensive rebound, got the ball to Dekker, who lobbed into the Frank Kaminsky for a dunk and a foul.
It was an example of how Wisconsin was about to out hustle Marquette for 50-50 loose balls and grab 13 offensive rebounds, two things that were missing a year ago in the rivalry.
"Several of those we turned into points," said Ryan said. "You know what that does to you as a player, what it does to the crowd. It's nice be at home … I give them a lot of credit for them making some plays that weren't there, and they made them."
"Just those plays could turn the tide of a game," added junior Josh Gasser. "It was good we got a few of those and limited there's."
Wisconsin's other three starters entered double figures and contributed plenty to the cause. Jackson, who also put a lot of heat on himself following last year's loss, finished with 12 points, five rebounds, 6-for-7 from the line and a 7-to-0 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Kaminsky added 11 points, all in the second half, and hit a big 3-pointer from the top of the key after Marquette had trimmed the lead to three with 1:33 remaining. The Golden Eagles never got closer than four the rest of the way.
Gasser added 10 points, went 6-for-6 from the line, had a 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover and drew a ton of praise from his teammates afterward.
"He just does so many little that people don't see in the box score," said Dekker. "He can turn games around with so many little things like that."
"He's a leader," added Ryan.
Jamil Wilson led all scorers with 22 points, eight coming in the final 2:08, and got 16 points from Davante Gardner, but Marquette (5-4) ever could get the lead in the second half despite shooting 48.5 percent after halftime.
"If you shoot 49 percent on the road where they've lost seven (nonconference) games in 13 years, that should be good enough," said Marquette coach Buzz Williams.
Dekker had a lot to do with that, with his takeover was in full effect. He waved off point guard Bronson Koenig at one point so he could bring the ball up court, and then promptly drew a foul driving into the paint and delivered the exclamation point before halftime with a thunderous slam driving down the middle of the lane.
It was like the parting of the blue sea, as Derrick Wilson and Jamil Wilson wanted nothing to do with a driving Dekker and a red-hot Badgers team that continues to register quality wins.
"From a talent perspective, Sam Dekker is really, really good," said Williams. "Playing a lot of different ways, playing multiple guys, plays extremely hard (and) understands how to play fundamentally. I think he's great."
After giving up 68.6 points during its first five games, the Badgers' defense is getting back on track, limiting their last five opponents – three from power six schools – to 57.8 points.
"This is exactly what we needed to do," said Gasser. "It's something that we kind of lacked the first couple games … Overall this week was great for us. We won some grind-out games, which is what we're going to need to do come Big Ten season."