UW forward Alando Tucker said he and his teammates wanted to make a statement after two straight losses, including an embarrassing home defeat to North Dakota State Saturday. The Badgers made that statement loud and clear Wednesday, dominating the Nittany Lions early and effectively putting the game out of reach by halftime.
In the first half, UW made a remarkable 50 percent from the field, taking most of their shots from beyond the 3-point line. The team finished its night making 13 triples (on 34 attempts), tying a Kohl Center record set in 2002 against Michigan for most 3s in one game.
"We had confidence in each other that we could knock down the open shots," Tucker said.
Wisconsin used a 21-0 run to take a 26-5 lead midway into the first half. Though comfortably ahead, the Badgers never let up as the fans in the Kohl Center joyfully witnessed shot after shot soar through the net with ease. The shooting display was a revelation, coming on the heels of UW's 22 percent showing against NDSU.
Even with a 37-18 lead late in the first half the Badgers continued to fight hard. As the clock ran down before intermission freshman forward Joe Krabbenhoft dove on the floor for a loose ball and called a timeout with 2.6 seconds on the game clock. The inbound pass came to Tucker, who turned five feet beyond the arc and drained a 3 at the buzzer.
Hitting shots must have been especially pleasant for coach Bo Ryan to see after suffering a non-conference loss at home Saturday as his team shot a frustrating 16 of 72 from the field.
But Ryan said he wasn't thinking about the team's recent skid. "I don't go into a game going, ‘Oh we just lost two, we've got to do this or we have to do that,'" Ryan said. "I've never coached that way and it's worked so far."
Ryan's players, on the other hand, wanted to prove their recent shooting troubles were over. Tucker led the Badgers with 17 points, going 6-for-12 from the field and 4-for-7 from beyond the arc. He also led the team with eight rebounds. His big numbers were much needed after delivering a 2 of 18 shooting performance in the Badgers' last game.
"We were able to recover and bounce back," Tucker said. "That's not going to happen often with a Wisconsin team. We're not going to have bad performances like that."
Wisconsin's shooting slowed down significantly in the second half (down to 29 percent), but Penn State was never within reach of the Badgers. The Nittany Lions committed 18 turnovers and only one of their players, Geary Claxton, scored in double figures. Claxton shot 8 of 12 from the field and tied Tucker with a game-high 17 points.
"I think we didn't play very well at all. Credit Wisconsin, they made shots and blew the thing open in the first half and cruised along in the second half," Penn State coach Ed DeChellis said. "We didn't do anything well. We were out of sync the whole time."
Penn State's freshman forward Jamelle Cornley came into the game leading the Nittany Lions in Big Ten play averaging 16 points per game but was held to just six on Wednesday at the Kohl Center.
"That's 18 years old and that's being a freshman. This is the first game where he didn't have his so-called normal game," DeChellis said.
As freshman Marcus Landry and sophomore Greg Stiemsma sat on UW's bench after being declared academically ineligible this week for the remainder of the season, the Badgers witnessed great contributions from all those who could play. Sophomore forward Brian Butch, despite appearing to aggravate an ankle injury, played 21 minutes and made 3 of 6 for eight points while grabbing five rebounds.
Taylor said the Badgers look forward to their road trip to Michigan on Saturday.
"We're right at the halfway point of the Big Ten schedule and we have a real tough road game coming up on Saturday," Taylor said. "To get a big victory like this going into a game like that is definitely a confidence booster for everybody."
Sophomore guard Michael Flowers added 10 points on 3 of 5 shooting. With about four minutes to go in the game Ryan began to clear his bench and Flowers led freshmen Kevin Gullikson, Morris Cain, Devin Barry and the fan favorite, sophomore walk-on Tanner Bronson, until the clock ticked down.