Team offensive leaders struggled on both sides of the ball and Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan credited guards Boo Wade and Freddie Owens for their play against Scarlet Knights (2-1) standout guard Ricky Shields, who was held to an agitating three points and two rebounds, fouling out late in the second half.
The junior performed well under his season averages (18.5 points, 6 rebounds), which both teams' head coaches attributed to Wisconsin's defense. Going 1-for-7 from the field and putting up only four points, two of which came at the charity stripe, Owens, too, fell short of the career-high 24-point performance he put up against Eastern Illinois.
"They're going to compete in the Big Ten with their defense," Rutgers coach Gary Waters said, qualifying the praise by the fact that his team's play was hindered by 23 turnovers. The Badgers capitalized on the Knights' errors with 26 points off turnovers.
Both teams struggled on offense at the start of the game as junior forward Mike Wilkinson turned the ball over three times inside four minutes, helping Rutgers take a 5-1 lead early in the game.
Wisconsin found its offensive spark in the first half in junior-college transfer Zach Morley, who hit his first four shots of the game and tied the contest twice during an 8-0 run. Morley capped that spurt by setting up sophomore forward Ray Nixon for a jumper at the 10-minute mark that gave Wisconsin a 9-7 lead it would hold the rest of the game.
Ryan's praise for Morley was muted after the game. "He's got a lot to work on, as all the guys do, defensively," he said. "When the shots are there, we know he can make them." Morley acknowledged the same, adding, "I tried to come in and add a little spark, add a little energy; help wherever I could. ... I'm still behind on what I need to do."
Wilkinson hit his stride at the start of the second half, however, putting up a three-pointer and an assist, as he and junior guard Devin Harris led the Badgers on a 9-0 run to pull out to a 30-19 lead. Harris led all scorers with 18 points and was 8-for-9 in free throws.
In addition to turning the ball over, Rutgers ran into foul trouble, fouling out Shields and senior forward Sean Axani. The Scarlet Knight foul-trouble put Wisconsin on the line for 18 of its 55 points as the Badgers, for the second consecutive game, made more free throws than field goals (17).
Rutgers, meanwhile, struggled to get to, and convert from, the charity stripe. Senior forward Herve Lamizana led the team with 15 points behind 5-for-7 field-goal shooting in the second half, but was just 2-for-8 at the free throw line. The Scarlet Knights were a meager 4-for-12 as a team.
Foul trouble also forced Rutgers to play a zone defense for long stretches of the second half, something that Waters typically does not employ. The Badgers, though, also struggled with their shot, hitting just 37.8 percent for the game.
Score by half
Rutgers - (Field goals-Free Throws-Points) - Herve Lamizana (6-2-15), Sean Axani (3-1-7), Quincy Douby (3-0-7), Adrian Hill (3-0-6), Ricky Shields (1-1-3), Marquis Webb (1-0-3), Byron Joynes (1-0-2). Totals: 18-4-43.
Wisconsin - (Field goals-Free Throws-Points) - Devin Harris (5-8-18), Mike Wilkinson (2-3-8), Zach Morley (4-0-8), Boo Wade (1-3-5), Ray Nixon (2-0-5), Clayton Hanson (1-2-5), Freddie Owens (1-2-4), Dave Mader (1-0-2). Totals: 17-18-55.
Three point goals - Rutgers 3 (Lamizana, Webb, Douby), Wisconsin 3 (Nixon, Hanson, Wilkinson).
Rebounds - Rutgers 35 (Axani 10), Wisconsin 28 (Wilkinson 7).
Assists - Rutgers 6 (Axani 2), Wisconsin 11 (Harris 5). Turnovers - Rutgers 23 (Lamizana, Shields, Douby 5), Wisconsin 12 (Wilkinson 4).
Blocks - Rutgers 4 (Lamizana 3), Wisconsin 1 (Harris). Steals - Rutgers 8 (Axani 3), Wisconsin 10 (Wilkinson 5).
Points - in the paint: Rutgers 24, Wisconsin 24. - Off turnovers: Rutgers 11, Wisconsin 26. - Fast break: Rutgers 2, Wisconsin 8. - Bench: Rutgers 9, Wisconsin 18. - Second chance: Rutgers 9, Wisconsin 7.