Leuer turned bashful when a reporter informed him of Beilein's praise. But he was anything but timid against the Wolverines, serving as a one-man wrecking crew for a trapping zone defense that gave most of UW's shooters fits.
"The guy doesn't flinch," UW coach Bo Ryan said. "He has been like that ever since the first time we saw him play, and when he visited campus, looked at our business school, and practices and travels — he just doesn't change."
Leuer knocked down all five of his 3-point attempts Wednesday and hit on 8 of 9 field goals overall.
"It felt pretty good," Leuer said. "I don't know if it was the gym or what. But it was a fun game."
When he was coaching at West Virginia, Beilein actually offered Leuer a scholarship, and the Minnesota native considered the Mountaineers early in his recruiting process. "But they were pretty far away," Leuer said. "I kind of wanted to stay closer to home."
Nice thing for Wisconsin — that staying close to home.
Throughout his young collegiate career, Leuer has shown signs of big-time potential. But Wednesday night's performance still came out of the blue.
Consider that prior to facing the Wolverines:
- Leuer had made four 3-pointers all season. Granted, he had only attempted five, and had displayed a smooth shot destined to be released more frequently from beyond the arc. Wednesday night, though, Leuer matched his triple-netting output after UW's first 12 games, in the first half. He is now 9 of 10 on 3s this season, a ridiculous 90 percent shooting clip.
- Leuer had not played more than 10 minutes in a game in nearly a month — he scored nine points in 13 minutes in UW's loss to Marquette Dec. 8. But Leuer played in three of UW's next four games, averaging just two points and nine minutes per contest.
- The 25-point performance more than doubled Leuer's previous collegiate best: 12 points on 5 of 11 shooting at Duke.
Leuer's scoring bursts could not have been better timed Wednesday.
Michigan appeared to be building momentum when back-to-back field goals drew the Wolverines within five points 8:18 before halftime. But Leuer answered with a triple from the left wing to stanch the would-be run.
"He was a great story for his team today," Beilein said. "Every time we got close, Leuer did something great."
UW looked out of sorts against Michigan's half-court traps — except when one of his teammates found Leuer spotting up outside the arc. He calmly sank three triples in the final 3:23 of the first half, propelling the Badgers to a 16-point halftime edge.
"Jon stepped up really big for us," UW sophomore guard Jason Bohannon said. "There were a few times when we had some dry spells on offense and Jon came in and hit those three or four 3s right in a row and that gave us a big boost offensively and confidence-wise, being able to go down the floor and just if he was open he'll be able to hit it like that."
"I can't give enough credit to my teammates," Leuer said. "I was open in some spots and they found me… That is what it came down to was just getting open and knocking down some shots."
Leuer's fifth 3, the only one he attempted in the second half, also stemmed the tide of a potential UM run. This time the Wolverines had enjoyed a 12-2 spurt before Leuer snapped UW's 6:37 field-goal drought to gain a 13-point cushion. After Michigan responded with four straight points to make it 47-39 UW, Leuer moved inside, contributing eight of the Badgers' next 11 points and allowing the Badgers to maintain a reasonable margin.
"I was just able to go inside and outside, it just created tough matchups I guess," Leuer said. "But once again my teammates found me when I was open. I was posting up and they had good post entry passes. It was just a good team win."
It wasn't quite a perfect night. Leuer did turn it over three times, and he missed his first three free throws. But an 8 of 9 shooting performance, along with two steals and five rebounds (three offensive) is quite impressive for any player, let alone a true freshman.
"What I like about him, he is not just an outside shooter," Beilein said. "He has a sense of where the ball is coming off the rim and he has the ability to get offensive rebounds."
And Leuer is becoming a more complete player as the season progresses.
"Defensively he is starting to pick up rotations and reads and do that a little better," Ryan said. "Hopefully he will just keep getting better. I don't know how many nights he can go 8-for-9 and 5-for-5 from 3-point range.
"And that's the thing sometimes when a guy has a good game, everybody then puts it on him like he's supposed to do it the next time."