UNIVERSITY PARK, PA. - Sam Dekker spent the majority of the nonconference season answering questions about the ankle he sprained prior to the start of University of Wisconsin’s exhibition season and how much it was limiting his production.
He’s spent the most recent stretch of Big Ten play quieting his critics.
Dekker dominated an ugly shooting night on both sides by scoring a career-high 22 points, helping No.5 Wisconsin maintain its healthy Big Ten advantage with a 55-47 victory over Penn State at the Bryce Jordan Center
The junior was a major catalyst for the Badgers (24-2, 12-1 Big Ten), which improve their Big Ten lead to three games over Maryland, Michigan State and Purdue with five games to go. It UW beats Minnesota Saturday and gets significant help, the Badgers will clinch a share of their first Big Ten title in seven years as early as Sunday.
On a night where Wisconsin shot 39.2 percent from the field and 5-for-22 from 3-point range, Dekker was the steady influence. He scored 13 points in the first half, scoring three buckets (two dunks) by slashing to the basket and hit a pair of 3-point shots, scored four points on an 8-2 run to start the second half and helped limit Penn State’s frontcourt – Brandon Taylor and Jordan Dickerson – to nine points on 4-for-11 shooting.
On UW’s nine game winning streak, Dekker has increased his points per game from 12.3 to 13.4 per game, including scoring at least 20 points in two of the last three games.
“That’s what we need to have him to do,” said Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard of Dekker, who also had a five-point possession in the first half. “We need other guys to do that, too.”
Despite going 4-for-12 from the field and missing 8 for his last nine shots, senior Frank Kaminsky grinded out 16 points by going 7-for-8 from the free throw line. Nigel Hayes added nine points and a game-high 13 rebounds, including five on the offensive boards that led to 10 second-chance points.
“That’s a good sign, not from a shooting standpoint but we’re able to find other ways to get it done,” said Gard.
Despite the lowly record, Wisconsin was expecting Penn State (15-12, 3-11) to provide a fight. The Nittany Lions had lost six Big Ten games by six points or less and the Badgers had won their last three games in the arena by only 4.7 points.
It’s likely a reason why Penn State is bemoaning another missed opportunity, especially since the visitors gave them plenty of opportunity to take
Senior guard D.J. Newbill lived up to his billing as a dynamite scorer – finishing with 29 points on 13-for-21 shooting – but got little help from his teammates. Only four other Penn State players scored, none above seven points, and the Nittany Lions bench – averaging 19.7 points – had only one 3-point field goal.
Averaging 21.5 points in four previous games against the Badgers, Newbill scored 61.7 percent of Penn State’s points, the highest percentage of a team's points scored by a major-conference player this season, according to ESPN State and Info.
“We talked about different ways to defend him,” said Gard. “We talked about trapping the ball screen but we didn’t want to foul him either because he shoots from the line really well (75 percent) and gets there a lot. To have him have the 29 that he did, it was important we did a good job on the other guys and kept them off the glass. For the most part we did that.”
Wisconsin went 9 minutes, 21 seconds between field goals in the first half, a stretch where it shot 1-for-13 and settled for jump shots, but Penn State could only manage to go on a 7-4 run. The Badgers also had a two stretches of over three minutes without field goals in the second half, but never saw their lead dip below five.
“A couple of times there I was afraid we were going to fray a little bit and maybe get out of character, but that was quickly squelched,” said UW coach Bo Ryan. “We just stayed true to form.”