It wasn’t a clean game at times, but Wisconsin was able to lead throughout despite shooting 23-for-54 (42.6 percent) from the field.
The Badgers received balance scoring from Nigel Hayes (20 points), Zak Showalter (18 points) and Ethan Happ (10 points). Of the three Showalter shot an impressive 60 percent from the field on 10 attempts and Hayes finished the game 5-for-9 (55.6 percent) from the field but a perfect 10-for-10 from the free throw line. Happ didn’t shoot as effectively at 40 percent (4-for-10), his lowest shooting percentage this season, but he did finish with his sixth double-double of the season as he collected a team-high 11 rebounds. Bronson Koenig and Vitto Brown had eight and five points, respectively, on a combined 5-for-15 shooting from the field.
In particular Wisconsin was able to have success when the Badgers got the ball into the paint. Scoring the first eight points of the game in the lane, jumping out on an 8-0 run, Wisconsin finished the game with 26 points in the paint. At times Rutgers was able to take the low post away and forced Wisconsin to settle for perimeter shots, which worked considering the Badgers shot 5-for-18 (27.8 percent) from three.
Despite not generating a ton of points in the paint like they have in past, the Badgers’ frontcourt found a way to draw fouls. The Badgers went 21-for-28 (75 percent) from the free throw line, and Hayes’ ability to attack the basket and draw contact was a welcomed sight.
At the same time Wisconsin struggled to take care of the basketball when it was fed into the low post. Either having trouble receiving the inbound pass or making an errant pass, Wisconsin’s frontcourt was responsible for eight of the team’s 13 turnovers, which Rutgers cashed into 13 points.
Wisconsin was able to build its 15 point halftime lead to as many as 21 with 13:52 to go in the game, but the Badgers allowed the Scarlet Knights to climb back in the game and cut the lead down to nine points at 53-44 with 8:22 to go in the game.
After a 30-second timeout by head coach Greg Gard, using it a friendly reminder to start being aggressive with the 50-50 loose balls, the defense clamped down and held Rutgers to only eight more points (3-for-13) over the rest of the game, including one stretch where it missed seven straight shots.
Wisconsin held Rutgers to 19-for-62 (30.6 percent) from the field and 7-for-18 (38.9 percent) from three, as only Mike Williams (18 points) and Nigel Johnson (11) reached double figures. Corey Sanders entered the game shooting above 50 percent in the five previous games, but shot a lowly 9.1 percent (1-for-11) and finished with four points.
Although Sanders didn’t record any turnovers, the defense by Wisconsin on him was terrific by preventing him from ever getting comfortable. Rutgers finished the game with 15 turnovers, 12 of which came in the first half. In particular Wisconsin was able to consistently display active hands and cut off passes to come up with a steal. The Badgers finished the game with 10 steals, four coming from Showalter and three from Happ. Wisconsin was able to cash the Rutgers miscues into 18 points.
Happ’s defense allowed Wisconsin to take control of the paint, as the Scarlet Knights finished with 18 points in the lane. It also helped the fact that Wisconsin stayed out of foul trouble while contesting shots. Wisconsin finished the game with six blocks and only 15 team fouls, as Rutgers went only 7 of 11 from the free throw line.
Rutgers did corral 17 offensive rebounds, but the Badgers holding Rutgers to 18 second-chance points and the low field goal percentage is commendable.
Scoring droughts allowed the Scarlet Knights to stay in the game longer than Wisconsin would have liked, but the Badgers responded after Rutgers cut a 21 point lead down to nine with a 14-2 run to end any upset thoughts.
UW actually closed the game on a 19-8 run over the final 8:22, going 4-for-11 from the field but consistently delivered from the free throw line (11-for-13). Showalter was able to get the run started, going 2-for-3 from the free throw line, and ended up scoring 10 of Wisconsin’s final 19 points.
What hurt Wisconsin was committing six of its 13 turnovers in the second half, four coming on Rutgers’ run to cut the lead to nine. In that stretch Rutgers turned Wisconsin’s turnovers into seven points (the Scarlet Knights finished the game with 13 points off turnovers). Happ had a team-high three turnovers and Brown, Charles Thomas, D'Mitrik Trice each had two. Despite the two turnovers by Trice, he went 2-for-3 from the field and also collected four rebounds in 13 minutes of work. Khalil Iverson led the bench with six points (1-for-5) but four of his points came from the free throw line. He was once again active with two blocks and four of his five rebounds being offensive boards.
Wisconsin received a good distribution from a combination of players and were able to effectively hit the glass, winning the rebounding battle 44-35. After registering a season-high eight rebounds against Florida A&M, Brown followed it up with seven rebounds. Wisconsin finished with 16 offensive rebounds that turned into 15 second-chance points.
Game MVP: Zak Showalter. Showalter was efficient in both halves in scoring a season-high in points and his third double-digit point outing the last four games. Not forcing any shots and taking what Rutgers gave him, Showalter’s defense and ball security (one turnover) was a huge asset to the Badgers in their conference opener.