MADISON - The shots just kept falling; drives to the lane, pull-up jumpers, post moves and 3-pointers. The University of Wisconsin had to think Duke would cool off eventually, but the offense averaging over 90 points per game with the ability to create confounded a veteran group of defenders.
Too much athleticism and too many makes ended Wisconsin’s undefeated season, and its number-two ranking for the time being, after fourth-ranked Duke registered an 80-70 victory in front of a deafening 17,279 in the Kohl Center, most of whom walked away muted.
The Big Ten had already won/retained the Commissioner’s Cup for the sixth consecutive season with an 8-6 decision, but that was of little consolation for the home team after letting the visiting Blue Devils (8-0) shoot 65.2 percent from the floor and 58.3 percent from 3-point range.
“They hit some tough shots, but they have good enough players that can do that at times,” said Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, whose team had been limiting opponents to 28.8 percent from the perimeter and 37.1 percent overall. “To have as many do it on the same night, that’s just not fair. I don’t care what anybody says. They were lights out.”
The Frank Kaminsky vs. Jahlil Okafor billing was good but didn’t live up the hype. Okafor battled foul trouble and finished with 13 points while Kaminsky finished with 17, hot early before eventually grinding along after the Blue Devils starting switching their defense on him.
With the marquee empty, freshman Tyus Jones felt it was a good time to make his statement that the Blue Devils have more than one super freshman. Jones scored 14 of his 22 in the second half and went 4-for-6 on his second-half shots, helping the Blue Devils shoot 72.2 percent after the break.
Duke’s shooting percentage was the highest for a UW opponent since Ohio State shot 68.1 percent in Columbus on March 6, 2011.
“Our offensive efficiency was like incredible,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. “Our kids were ready, they never backed down and they showed great composure. I’m really proud of my team because I think we beat one of the two or three best teams in the country.”
Senior Traevon Jackson did his best to keep up for Wisconsin (7-1), finishing with a career-high 25 points and hitting some 3-pointers late for the Badgers to have a pulse. Only problem was that Kaminsky and Jackson didn’t get much assistance from the peanut gallery.
Junior Sam Dekker scored five points on 2-for-5 shooting, attempting no shots in the final 16 minutes. After missing practice time this week and struggling, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said others earned more playing time.
“When he’s ready, then he can get more minutes,” said Ryan.
Nigel Hayes – thrown out of rhythm by foul trouble – finished with a season-low four points on 1-for-5 shooting. Wisconsin’s bench only chipped in with 12 points, too, and the Badgers could only turn 10 offensive rebounds into 12 points.
Duke only had three offensive rebounds mainly because the Blue Devils only missed 16 shots, including just six in the second half.
“They were just comfortable, and we have to do a better job of making adjustments on the fly,” said Jackson. “Credit to them though. They hit some really tough shots…We just came up a little bit short. We had probably one more guy really hit a couple more shots, then I think it will be a closer game.
That’s not to say Wisconsin didn’t have ample opportunities to try and build a lead at points in the second half. Trailing 42-40 in the early minutes of the first half, the Badgers missed four straight layups at one point before Hayes registered his only bucket of the game – an old-fashioned 3-point play to put UW up 43-42.
That’s when Duke started countering. A 3-point shot by Rasheed Sulaimon (14 points) keyed a 6-0 run to push the lead to 48-43. After Wisconsin chipped the lead back down to two, Justise Winslow’s 3-pointer started a 7-0 run for the Blue Devils, getting them their largest lead to that point at 58-49. Over the next nine minutes couldn’t chip the lead any closer than three, as Jackson and Kaminsky combined for 18 of UW’s final 21 points from that point on.
“It was close, but we never made them nervous at all,” said Jackson. “They always had a comfortable six-point lead.”
Added Ryan: “We let the spread get away. You can’t be down nine against a team like that with a short clock. It’s very difficult.”
Duke shot 60 percent in the first half (15-for-25), but only led 35-32 at the break because Okafor sat the final 8:34 with two fouls. UW was in the game despite going 4-for-13 from 3-point range in the second half and Hayes sitting on the bench for the final eight minutes and change because of the play of Vitto Brown and Duje Dukan. The two role players, both in the game because of Hayes’ foul trouble and Kaminsky needing a rest, combined for a 6-0 run that tied the game at 26.
The pair, like many others on UW’s roster, were absent from the score sheet in the second half. Duke on the other hand never stopped dropping buckets, as the Blue Devils shot 71.4 percent in the second half.
“It was a struggle, and they’re better than us right now,” said Ryan. “There’s no question. We’ve got to shore some things up.”
They’ll have to improve quick, especially since Wisconsin plays a pair of true road games in the next week against hungry in-state rivalries Marquette and Milwaukee.
“It’s early in the season,” said Kaminsky. “We’ve got a lot of things to work on. Will be able to watch some film tomorrow, see exactly what they did wrong, take that into practice on Thursday and build on it for our upcoming games.”