The last time Eastern Illinois and Wisconsin met, in 1995, the result was a 105-70 trouncing of the Panthers. That was then. This time around the result was an 81-47 win with little offense and plenty of foul trouble.
Poor shooting plagued both teams from the start, with Wisconsin's key starters struggling everywhere but at the free throw line. Junior forward Mike Wilkinson had 12 points, including all five of his free throws, but did not score until he made a free throw 10 minutes into the first period. Junior guard Devin Harris made two of his 11 field goal attempts and racked up his 15 points mostly in free throws, sinking a career-high 11 on 14 attempts. In Wisconsin's 64-53 win over Penn Friday night, Harris had 16 points but was 4-of-14 shooting and made seven of 10 free throws. As a team, Wisconsin has made 51 of 69 free throws this season while its opponents are only 14 of 19.
Although their field goal percentage is less than 40 percent for both games, the Badgers, particularly Harris, are not concerned.
"Some games they just don't fall, sometimes they do," Harris said of his outside shots, where he struggled the most. "It still feels fine. The shots, they fall off my fingertips. They're going to fall, so, not too much worry."
For senior guard Freddie Owens, the shots did fall, as he made seven of eight from the field, including all four of his three-point attempts, and six of seven free throws for a career-high 24 points. He knocked down three three-pointers in a row late in the game.
"He just let the game happen and that's a good job for a senior that's been around a little bit to understand," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "You notice when he took those threes, it was after we had moved the ball, touched the post, skipped it and then got it out zone deep wide. Well, you tend to shoot a little bit better that way."
Wisconsin broke away with approximately six minutes left in the first half, while the Panthers went five minutes without a point. The Badgers went into halftime with a 30-22 lead, wearing down the Panthers, who could not find an offensive rhythm and could not keep up with the Badgers defensively.
"The combination of [a lack of offense and Wisconsin's defense]," Eastern Illinois coach Rick Samuels said. "Wisconsin's defense is always solid, they're in position. We do break down, though. We get out of our rhythm. We get kids trying [to] take some things that aren't there. We have guys that try to penetrate that aren't penetrators. We've got to fix those things."
Eastern Illinois junior guard Derik Hollyfield, a key cog in the Panthers' 83-76 loss to Northern Illinois Saturday, took only two shots and had one point on a free throw. He played only 11 minutes and fouled out in the second half along with senior forward David Roos. Foul trouble, a problem for both teams, especially hindered Eastern Illinois, which racked up 29 fouls, sending Wisconsin to the free throw line 21 times, where they converted 34 of 41 attempts.
Although the statistics indicate Wisconsin has gotten off to a slow start in both of its regular-season games, neither the players nor Ryan see an underlying problem that could hinder their efforts throughout the season.
"Everybody's a little nervous, a little antsy," Harris said. "I don't think we came off as focused as we wanted to but the guys picked it up and the guys off the bench came in and gave us a big boost and we got the job done. It's the first game, the home-opener, a little bit of jitters."
"What slow starts?" Ryan asked. "We're probing."
Score by half
Northern Illinois - (Field goals-Free Throws-Points) - Jason Wright (4-1-11), Andy Gobczynski (2-4-8), Cortez Forte (3-1-7), Josh Gomes (2-3-7), David Roos (3-1-7), Jesse Mackinson (3-0-6), Derik Hollyfield (0-1-1). Totals: 17-11-41.
Wisconsin - (Field goals-Free Throws-Points) - Freddie Owens (7-6-24), Devin Harris (2-11-15), Mike Wilkinson (3-5-12), Clayton Hanson (3-3-9), Ray Nixon (1-3-5), Boo Wade (1-3-5), Dave Mader (1-2-4), Andreas Helmigk (1-1-3), Kammron Taylor (1-0-2), Zach Morley (1-0-2). Totals: 21-34-81.
Three point goals - Eastern Illinois 2 (Wright 2), Wisconsin 5 (Owens 4, Wilkinson).
Rebounds - Eastern Illinois 33 (Forte 7), Wisconsin 34 (Wilkinson 7).
Assists - Eastern Illinois 8 (Hollyfield 2, Mackinson 2), Wisconsin 13 (Harris 5).
Turnovers - Eastern Illinois 23, Wisconsin 7.