Wisconsin never trailed and the Seminoles never mounted enough of a comeback as No. 12 UW bested Florida State in a sometimes sloppy but successful 81-66 victory on Tuesday night to give the Big Ten its first victory of the 2006 ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
After some botched possessions by both sides to open the game, Wisconsin (6-1) jumped ahead to a 9-0 lead when Alando Tucker looped around the far side of the defense and dunked a Michael Flowers alleyoop pass from the perimeter to set the tone. Tucker led the Badgers with 22 points and was 9-for-11 at the free throw line.
It was in the closing minutes of the first half, however, that UW began to separate itself from FSU. The Badgers ended the half on a 10-2 run culminating in a desperation 3-point attempt by Tucker that sailed onto the fingers of Brian Butch before he tipped it in at the buzzer. Wisconsin took a 34-23 lead into the half.
"That was the key," said UW coach Bo Ryan. "There's no question. You go from three to 11 at the end of a half. Even though we always say it's zero to zero at halftime – that was a good momentum shift."
The Seminole deficit never dropped below nine after that point. And following a few minutes of back-and-forth basketball after the break, Wisconsin made the run that ended up burying Florida State – a 13-2 stretch in just 3:05. UW scored on every possession in that span and knocked down three 3-pointers to give itself a 55-35 cushion.
The Seminoles would nibble at that lead late when they pressed the Badgers, but never made a serious dent.
The one thing the Badgers seem to have taken away from their up-and-down trip to South Padre Island over Thanksgiving is the reinforced importance of starting on the right foot. Wisconsin's 66-64 loss to Missouri State was the only game in which the Badgers have let their opponent completely dictate the tempo early on.
"That one loss that we took down there was a wake-up call," said senior Kammron Taylor. "We have to come out ready to play from the jump ball. We don't want to let that happen again."
Florida State looked to use a quick pace to get the Badgers out of that initial comfort zone. The Seminoles shot early in the possession, and were at their best when pushing the fast break following a Wisconsin mistake.
They managed to hang with Wisconsin for much of the first half, no doubt aided by Tucker's departure to the locker room after he received a blow to the face on a drive to the hoop. Tucker returned in time for the Badgers' run, however, and the Seminoles inability to execute led to 14 first-half turnovers.
"I thought that the 14 turnovers we had in the first half dug a hole for ourselves and made it very difficult to get out of," said FSU coach Leonard Hamilton.
In the second half it was Florida State's turn to lose its star senior forward. Al Thornton was bothered by leg cramps for much of the second half, which hampered his ability to contribute the athleticism he showed in a first-half dunk over UW big man Greg Stiemsma.
Picking up the reins was Florida State guard Toney Douglas, who led all scorers with 24 on 11-for-20 shooting. The Seminoles shot 45.2 percent from the field, and did connect on over 42 percent of their shots in their 23-point first half. But the repeated mistakes were too much to overcome.
"It was poor decisions," Hamilton said. "They were the type of turnovers that if you concentrate on you can eliminate them from being an issue for you."
Wisconsin got a strong offensive output from all over its roster in the victory. Taylor bounced back from a subpar South Padre weekend to score 18 points (6-of-9 FG). Butch also contributed 13 while taking a beating inside. Flowers and Joe Krabbenhoft each added seven, and six different players recorded at least two assists in spreading the ball around the swing offense.
"That's what our offense is based on," Taylor said. "We have a lot of passers on the team, so that doesn't put all the pressure on the guards."
It may have been Wisconsin's best team effort to date, and it was one in which the game never seemed to get out of their hands – despite what 18 turnovers might suggest. The contest did get a bit sloppy at times, but Wisconsin's ability to set the pace and play with a lead definitely made a difference.
"That game that we lost, everyone realizes we've got to come out to a big start and play well from the start," Butch said. "If we want to be successful we can't put ourselves in big holes like we did and succeed."