Wisconsin was already without Frank Kaminsky (concussion), so it didn’t help the offense when Traevon Jackson went out of the game in the second half with a foot injury when he fell on it wrong on a defensive possession.
Down two starters, and with Josh Gasser having to sit due to foul trouble, the offense naturally started to struggle. Wisconsin went 6:50 without a field goal in the second half and allowed Rutgers to make a comeback and help pull off the upset.
Oddly, the first-half offense was efficient and consistently found ways to score the basketball, as UW shot 46.9 percent from the field to build a 12-point halftime lead. Sam Dekker was key in helping the offense get started in the first half by scoring nine of the first 22 points in the game. Nigel Hayes was just as consistent in the first half finishing with seven points, eight rebounds and three assists.
But just like the offense in the second half, the duo were contained and struggled to find ways to score. Dekker and Hayes combined to shoot 5-for-13 from the field after halftime and each finished the game with 15 points. Bronson Koenig, who started his first career game at Wisconsin, was the only other Badger to finish in double digits with 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the field. Overall Wisconsin finished the game 24-for-56 (42.9 percent) from the field.
Although Wisconsin struggled shooting in the second half, the Badgers didn’t shoot themselves in the foot with turnovers. UW finished the game with only five miscues (two in the second half), and Rutgers only generated seven points off turnovers.
Like the offense, it was a tale of two halves. Even before Jackson got injured the Rutgers’ offense was threatening the Badger lead, as the Scarlet Knights cut the halftime deficit into single digits with in the first 3:20 of the second half. Rutgers didn’t relinquish their aggressive style after cutting the lead to single digits, and Wisconsin defense had no answer.
Rutgers seemed to get any shot it wanted in the second half, even if Wisconsin was able to play good defense, and the Scarlet Knights finished the second half shooting 16-for-24 (66.7 percent) from the field. Overall Rutgers went 25-for-46 (54.3 percent) from the field in the game.
Rutgers needed Kadeem Jack and Myles Mack to play well to pull the upset, and they did. The two led Rutgers in scoring; Mack led Rutgers with 21 points in 39 minutes, and Jack finished with 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting. They were the only Rutgers players to reach double digits, with the third leading scorer being Bishop Daniels who had nine points.
Kaminsky sitting out the game it took away the Badgers’ height advantage away, allowing Rutgers to consistently have success around the paint. Rutgers scored 34 of its 67 points in the paint, as Wisconsin at times couldn’t successfully prevent a post move or had trouble defending the back door screen cut.
After Rutgers committed a season-high 19 turnovers against Nebraska, Wisconsin only forced seven turnovers, which is well below its season average of 12.9 turnovers a game. Those seven turnovers were converted into eight points.
Give credit where credit is due. Simply put, Rutgers made enough shots throughout the game that they haven’t consistently made this year. Rutgers ranked last or close to the bottom consistently in a majority of offensive statistical categories, such as points a game, field goal percentage and 3-point percentage, but looked like a different team against the Badgers.
After failing to make a 3-point shot in the first half, Rutgers made its first five 3-point attempts to begin the second half, which helped to quickly cut into the Badger lead pretty quick in the second half. Mack went 4-for-9 from 3-point range, including hitting one that tied the game at 46-46.
It didn’t help UW in the second half that Dekker vanished in the second half. Dekker failed to score in the final 10:41 of the game and didn’t attempt a field goal in the last 6:10. Rutgers did well of keeping Dekker from finding shots, but the junior could have done a better job of trying to find a shot for himself and try to be aggressive, especially without Gasser, Jackson or Kaminsky on the floor.
Wisconsin give itself a chance at the end of the game to win it but Rutgers, unlike the Badgers, made its critical free throws. Rutgers went 12-for-15 from the free throw line compared to Wisconsin going 9-for-16 (6-for-12 in the second half).
The Badgers won the rebounding battle, 31-28, and Hayes was key in that area, as he was able to get his hands on 10 rebounds. The Badgers were also active on the glass by turning 12 offensive rebounds into 16 second-chance points. Hayes registered his fourth double-double of the season.
Game MVP: Bronson Koenig. In his first career start, Koenig didn’t disappoint by playing a season-high 31 minutes and was efficient during his time on the floor. Despite his spike in minutes, Koenig maintained his stinginess with the basketball in finishing with a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Koenig also secured two rebounds and was active on defense.
Koenig helped Wisconsin stay competitive by knocking down a couple of critical shots late to keep Wisconsin with in a possession. With the severity of Jackson’s injury unknown, this will be a good building block game for Koenig as Wisconsin continues to move through Big Ten play.