MADISON – After eight days off to focus on final exams, this was the perfect situation for No.14 Wisconsin to restart its engines with conference play on the horizon: a struggling mid-major team playing its second game in 24 hours without its two leading scorers.
Freshman guard D'Mitrik Trice scored a game-high 14 points to pace No. 14 Wisconsin to a 90-37 victory over Florida A&M at the Kohl Center Friday.
Thirteen different players scored for the Badgers (11-2), who extended their winning streak to seven games with conference play beginning at home against Rutgers Tuesday.
Playing its first game since Dec.14 due to a break for final exams, Wisconsin utilized its distinct size advantage in the low post to score 40 points in the paint and shoot 52.3 percent (27 of 58) from the field.
It was the fourth biggest win in school history for Wisconsin, which hasn’t lost following a week-long December break since a two-point home loss to Providence in 1996.
Wisconsin senior forward Vitto Brown added 11 points and a season-high eight rebounds in only 18 minutes, causing head coach Greg Gard to say that’s the best the second-year starter has rebounded through 13 games this season.
“I was getting tired of being 6-8 and in good shape and not getting any rebounds,” Brown said. “I just felt I was kind of useless for the team in that regard, so I wanted to make my mark on the game. That was my main focus heading into the game was trying to crash the glass a little bit more. I think that went pretty well.”
The Badgers didn't play any of their starters more than 22 minutes. Sophomore Charles Thomas scored 11 points of the bench, as Wisconsin's reserves outscored Florida A&M's bench 52-9.
The Badgers were sharp in part because Gard put the team through an approximate 25 minute simulated game on Wednesday to work off the rust.
“The competition helped us be a little more sharp tonight,” Gard said. “I think that was pretty evident early.”
Elijah Mays and Brendon Myles scored nine points apiece to lead the Rattlers (2-11), who played their second game in 24 hours.
After an 83-63 loss to Samford Thursday night, the Rattlers rode a bus 145 miles from Birmingham, Ala., to Atlanta, caught a commercial flight to Milwaukee Friday morning and took a bus 85 miles to the arena.
Playing without leading scorer Desmond Williams (16.3 ppg), who was injured on Thursday, the Rattlers shot 25.9 percent but hung with the home team through the opening 10 minutes.
That changed when Wisconsin used a 19-2 run to open a 41-17 margin with 1:05 remaining in the first half, getting production from the paint (four points), the free throw line (six points) and the three-point line (nine points).
Wisconsin led by at least 21 the remainder of the game, outscoring Florida A&M 40-8 in the paint and outrebounding the visitors 53-21.
“Bottom line you can’t come here, places like this with a talented program, and shoot 26 percent from the floor, allow them to shoot 52 percent and have a chance to be successful,” FAMU coach Byron Samuels said. “The combination of them making shots and us not making shots led to the disparity in the outcome.”
The result was virtually decided when Wisconsin went on a 15-0 run in the second half to make the score 68-25, but there was still plenty to cheer about. Sophomore forward Ethan Happ (eight points, nine rebounds, three assists) registered a steal and executed a nifty behind-the-back pass to Trice on a 2-on-1 break to pump up the crowd. One possession later, freshman guard Brevin Pritzl poked the ball away with his left hand and finished with a one-handed slam on his own fast break.
Owning wins over teams from the ACC, Big East (x2), Big 12 and SEC, giving Wisconsin a conference-best five top-100 wins (according to KenPom.com), Gard gave his team a “B or a B-minus” entering the conference portion of the schedule.
“We’ve got room to get better and we have to get better,” Gard said. “We’ve got a lot of areas we can continue to improve on, but we have gotten better, and that’s always a good sign.”