After a disappointing showing in the Maui Invitational Championship against North Carolina, Wisconsin shored up all their weak spots that led to the loss, and showcased the kind of high-level play expected of them.
The Badgers (5-2) were able to run away from the Prairie View A&M Panthers (2-5) Sunday afternoon with their defense halting attacks and the offense creating easy opportunities. The result was prolonged scoring droughts for the A&M offense that the Badgers turned into relentless runs on offense. The Badgers coasted to a 95-50 win.
“I thought we learned a lot in Maui,” said head coach Greg Gard. “After that North Carolina game I thought we were better. We learned some things about ourselves of who we are, and who we cannot be.”
After a poor 3-for-11 shooting performance against UNC––which included a paltry 1-for-7 from three—senior forward Nigel Hayes scored at will in the paint, as all of his 17 points came from that area, or were created inside and came via free throws. The forward avoided the three-point temptation Sunday afternoon, which propelled his offensive momentum, as he didn’t have to worry about shaking off bad misses. Instead, he was a perfect 5-5 from the field and added a 7-for-8 performance at the line.
“Very happy for Nigel to be able to perform like that,” said Gard. “That’s an efficient line ... that’s how he can be when he really locks into that type of mode.”
“I just wanted to shoot layups,” Hayes added.
The forward has seen increased questions of his shot selection, especially following performances like his 1-for-7 outing against UNC.
“A lot of criticism comes from people who don’t know basketball well. If you look at my shots, they’re pretty good shots,” Hayes said.
Redshirt sophomore forward Ethan Happ registered his second double-double of the season on a 12-point, 13-rebound performance for the Badgers. After losing the rebounding battle against UNC by 12––in which Happ managed a mere six rebounds––Wisconsin came out and established themselves on the boards, which led to a dominating 44-26 advantage against Prairie View.
With 15 offensive rebounds alone, the Badgers took advantage of the second possession, which created 19 second-chance points on the afternoon.
With second-chance opportunities, Wisconsin looked to capitalize with three-pointers to increase their lead even more, but shot a meager 9-for-27 from three-point range. Senior guard Bronson Koenig came out determined to hit from beyond the arc, but only managed a 1-for-6 outing.
Only a third of the nine Badgers who attempted threes made half or more of such shots, and while redshirt freshman Brevin Pritzl was apart of that third, his threes came in the waning minutes when the defense had checked out.
The bench provided 39 points for Wisconsin, with freshman guard D’Mitrik Trice and sophomore forward Khalil Iverson each registering 10 points––which included several rim-rocking dunks from Iverson and a pair of corner threes from Trice.
“Whenever I get called upon, just go in, do my job, and go sit back down,” said Iverson.
Now Wisconsin turns their attention to No. 18 Syracuse (4-1) Tuesday at the Kohl Center, part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
“The level of competition will escalate immensely in the next 48 hours,” said Gard. “I’ve seen a little bit of our game from last year … they’re very good, they’re very talented. Coach Boeheim obviously has been there forever … it’s a quick turnaround to play that type of team in 48 hours and one practice.”
After falling to both ranked Creighton and UNC so far this season, Wisconsin will need to step up as they face yet another early ranked opponent. The type of losses the Badgers have already fallen victim to will certainly come back around March, but with a win Tuesday night, Wisconsin can start to build their tournament résumé with a quality victory.