With both teams at times mired in scoring droughts, turnover problems and foul trouble, it was Badger freshman Jon Leuer who saved the day for UW and two Michigan youngsters — freshman Manny Harris and sophomore DeShawn Sims — who kept the game interesting for the Wolverines (4-9 overall, 0-1 Big Ten). Leuer scored a career-best 25 points on 8 of 9 shooting, hitting three-pointers at key moments to keep Wisconsin alive. Harris had a team-best 16 points and Sims finished with 13 before fouling out with two minutes left in the game.
The Badgers certainly anticipated a strong performance from Harris, who also had three rebounds and three assists and was 5 of 5 at the charity stripe.
"We're going over the scouting report with coach (Greg) Gard… he says, ‘Guys, I'm telling you, Manny Harris, he might be the best freshman in the league. I don't of anybody else that can do as many things as he does,'" UW coach Bo Ryan said. "And I interjected, ‘Next to Jon Leuer.' Everybody laughed, and then he continued with the scouting report. Maybe I need to say more things like that."
Both teams struggled to hit shots early on, with Wisconsin (11-2, 1-0) connecting on its first field goal more than four minutes into the game — a layup from senior Brian Butch. But the Badgers' defense stepped up, holding the Wolverines scoreless for the first seven minutes.
Wisconsin built a 10-0 lead before UM got on the board, and turned that into a 34-18 advantage at the half.
Wisconsin took that 16-point halftime edge and extended it to a 42-22 advantage early in the second half. But that seemingly comfortable lead became more tenuous. Michigan went on a 12-2 run during a six-minute Wisconsin scoring drought, which Leuer ended with a trey that gave Wisconsin a 47-34 cushion.
"For a freshman to step up like that, it speaks volumes about Jon and how he's able to play and play with confidence," UW sophomore Jason Bohannon said.
For all of Wisconsin's early-game struggles, the home team fared much worse in front of an uninspiring announced crowd of 8,855. On top of Michigan's seven-minute scoring drought to open the game, the Badgers dominated the boards on Michigan's end of the court, snagging 26 defensive rebounds to the Wolverines' eight offensive caroms and out-rebounded the Wolverines 35-25 overall.
Defensively, Wisconsin held Michigan to 39 percent shooting in the game and limited the Wolverines to just 6 of 22 in the first half.
"They make everybody shoot like that," Michigan coach John Beilein said of Wisconsin, which leads the Big Ten in scoring defense, yielding only 54 points per game. "It's just something we have to work at and hopefully we'll get better at it but the defense doesn't get any easier."
In addition to dry spells and turnovers (Wisconsin racked up 18 and Michigan had 15), both teams suffered from foul trouble. Sims, and Wisconsin senior Michael Flowers fouled out late in the game, while Wisconsin's Marcus Landry and Brian Butch and Michigan's Ekpe Udoh and Harris also suffered foul trouble.
Wisconsin's leading scorer, sophomore Trevon Hughes, saw his first minutes Wednesday since nursing a right ankle injury against Texas. The guard, who averaged 15 points per game prior to Wednesday, finished with five points on 2-of-5 shooting and contributed three assists and two rebounds in 28 minutes.
"First Big Ten game, on the road, where he was… a major player minutes-wise, I thought for the first time… he really didn't take a whole lot of shots but it's OK, he'll get better," Ryan said.
Landry added 15 points and six rebounds, while sophomore Jason Bohannon contributed 10 points, all in the last four minutes, when Michigan played aggressively on defense in a last-ditch effort to dent UW's comfortable lead.
"We tried to still play smart and stuff and if they were going to foul , just be strong with the ball and make the right decisions," Bohannon said. "When I had the ball in my hands and I tried to hit the open guy if they were there but they fouled all over the floor every time and I just tried to make smart decisions with the ball."