The way the offense started the first half made it look like it was going to be another long night, as Wisconsin went the first six minutes of the game without a field goal and missed their first 10 shots. Nigel Hayes was able to break the skid to give Wisconsin its first lead of the game and help the offense close the first half shooting 9-for-17 from the field.
Although the first six minutes of offense was head scratching, Wisconsin got the game under control, finishing 20-for-44 (45.5 percent), and didn’t allow Texas A&M Corpus Christi to rush them on offense. Three players for Wisconsin reached double figures, as Ethan Happ and Bronson Koenig each scored 15 points on a combined 10-for-17 shooting from the field. Vitto Brown followed up his strong performance against Marquette by registering his first career double-double of 12 points and a career-high 16 rebounds. Nigel Hayes and Zak Showalter each scored eight points, as this is Hayes first game this season where he has failed to score in double figures.
With Wisconsin struggling to shoot in the first half, they survived by creating second chances on the glass, as 11 of the team’s 15 offensive rebounds came in the first half. But even with Wisconsin registering its sixth game of at least 15 offensive rebounds, they could only translate it into six points. The combination of Brown (six offensive rebounds) and Hayes (four offensive rebounds) was the reason why Wisconsin was able to attack the offensive glass efficiently.
While Hayes continues struggles shooting the ball (2-for-7, 1-for-6 in the first half), the junior has found ways of getting his teammates involved by distributing the ball, registering back-to-back games of six assists. But as good as Hayes was of locating an open teammate, he struggled to take care of the ball with a season-high six turnovers.
Hayes wasn’t the only player to make careless mistakes, as the same issues that have occurred since the beginning of the season, such as miscommunication resulting in passes thrown out of bounds, continue to pop up. Wisconsin turned the basketball over 15 times as the Islanders turned the miscues into 16 points.
Needing to find a way to neutralize forward Rashawn Thomas, the Badgers’ frontcourt did their job of holding the Islanders’ leading scorer to 12 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and getting him into foul trouble. Thomas’ four fouls limited him to only 19 minutes.
Thomas missed his first four shots from the field and didn’t score until the 7:40 mark in the first half, as UW made him work consistently for each shot. Hameed Ali also added 12 points on 4-for-13 shooting from the field and Joe Kilgore added 10 off the bench. Overall the Islanders shot 19-for-58 (32.8 percent) from the field.
Wisconsin survived with its struggling offense because Texas A&M Corpus Christi delivered nothing offensively. A combination of a lack of energy from the Islanders, early attempts in the shot clock and some decent UW defense caused TAMU-CC to start the game 1-for-9 from the field.
All the missed shots in the first half (8-for-30) did give TAMU-CC nine offensive rebound opportunities, but the Badgers limited the Islanders to only five second-chance points and 10 for the game. Not only did Thomas’ foul trouble hurt the Islanders on the glass, TAMU-CC only scored 20 points in the paint. To compound the problem, Wisconsin held the Islanders to 4-for-18 (22.2 percent) from 3-point range.
For the second straight game, Wisconsin forced its opponent into double-digit turnovers (10). Hayes registered three of UW’s five steals, and the Badgers’ aggressiveness scored 12 points off turnovers and prevented the Islanders from finding a flow.
Wisconsin got a much needed victory to halt a two game losing skid and send head coach @Bo Ryan into retirement on a winning note.
Wisconsin’s offense is still looking for its identity but the Badgers finally took control once Thomas picked up his fourth foul at the 12:43 mark in the second half. At that point the Badgers led 37-30, but Thomas sitting on the bench started to open things up for the offense. UW quickly build a double-digit lead with Thomas on the bench and never let it dip below eight points.
With Thomas watching for the remainder of the game, Wisconsin finished with 20 points in the paint and shot 11-for-17 (64.7 percent) in the second half from the field (the best second half of shooting since the second game of the season). As important as it was for Wisconsin to try and go after Thomas to get into foul trouble, the Badges also benched Ali with four fouls for the final 8:13 of the game. With Ali and Thomas only playing a combined 17 minutes in the second half, it allowed Wisconsin’s offense to settle in and help Wisconsin build a lead as large as 17 points.
The 24 TAMU-CC fouls allowed Wisconsin to get to the free throw line with great regularity, something that was missing in Saturday’s loss to Marquette. UW was far from consistent at the line, however, and only shot 18-for-31 (58.1 percent). Three different UW players attempted at least six free throws, with Happ leading the way going 5-for-8.
TAMU-CC was able to do a good job defending the 3-point line and limiting easy looks. UW finished 6-for-16 (37.5 percent) from the perimeter but were able to knock down shots when players were able to create the necessary space.
The young bench for Wisconsin played better, as Charlie Thomas and Khalil Iverson finished the game with four and two points, respectively. Iverson played 14 minutes (all in the first half). Jordan Hill and Alex Illikainen were also called upon to fill in for Zak Showalter due to foul trouble. This was Hills first playing time since the Prairie View A&M game. Thomas was the only player from Wisconsin’s bench to see action in the second half.
Game MVP: Vitto Brown. Things have started to come together over the last two games, scoring 15 points against the Golden Eagles and a career-high 16 rebounds against TAMU-CC. Brown’s first career double-double was very helpful to Wisconsin winning the rebounding battle (42-31) and his 10 defensive rebounds limited the Islanders second chances. With the rest of Wisconsin’s starters struggling on offense in the first half, Brown helped break a 7-7 tie by scoring seven of Wisconsin’s next 11 points to help give Wisconsin the lead for good. Brown didn’t allow the Islanders frontcourt to rush him and took what they gave him on offense.