At the opening tip-off, the ball hung in the air longer than Ethan Happ expected—just long enough for Novak Topalovic to tap the ball back and steal the first possession for Idaho State. From there, it was all downhill for the Bengals.
Thanks to a combination of textbook defense and free-flowing offense, the No. 17 Wisconsin Badgers (8-2) trounced the Bengals (1-8), 78-44, for their fourth-straight win.
Senior guard Bronson Koenig set the tone with a 28-foot 3-pointer on the Badgers’ first possession. So began a 10-0 run to start the game, which wouldn’t be stopped until Erik Nakken hit a 3-pointer for Idaho State 6:02 into the game.
That run was then extended even deeper into the half, as the Badgers raced out to a quick 19-3 lead that allowed them to play loose basketball for the rest of the night. They suffocated the Bengals with picture-perfect help defense, holding them to an abysmal 16 points in the first half.
Perhaps even more impressively, UW held Ethan Telfair, who averages 19.8 points per game, scoreless for the duration of the first half and deep into the second. He finished with a career-low two points on 1-of-9 shooting from the field.
“They did a really good job of helping, and I think they know that if you can stop him there’s a good chance we’re going to have a hard time scoring the ball,” Idaho State head coach Bill Evans said. “We tried to ball screen a little bit … I think that’s about as good a job as anybody has done on him in two years.”
Telfair struggled with the Badgers’ length all night, and although he often got past the first man, he was invariably forced into the path of another UW defender. He did a fair job getting to the rim, but always found a second man waiting for him.
“I thought we really steered him towards other defenders. We knew we couldn’t defend him 1-on-1; we wanted to try to wall up as much as possible,” Badgers’ head coach Greg Gard said. “Wherever he turned, obviously he had a guy with him, but there was always a presence in the gaps.”
For the majority of his possessions, Telfair found himself lined up against redshirt senior guard Zak Showalter, who had a renaissance after a stumbling start to the year. He locked in against Telfair and stuck his hands in passing lanes, earning himself a career-high four steals.
Showalter also made his presence felt on the offensive end, where he finished with four points, three assists and no turnovers. Though he wasn’t often on the receiving end of many passes, he did a phenomenal job moving the ball around the perimeter and finding an open teammate.
“I thought he really came with an aggressive mindset on both ends,” Gard said. “I think some of his defense kind of spurred his offense … I just thought he was very in tune, he was really into it.”
As a team, the Badgers handed out 11 assists, two of which landed in the skillful hands of redshirt sophomore Ethan Happ. On both occasions, his teammates—first Showalter, then senior forward Nigel Hayes—worked their way to the basket and drew Happ’s defender, leaving him all alone under the rim for easy dunks.
For the first time this season, freshman guard D’Mitrik Trice showed signs of mortality, missing four of his five attempts from the field. He scored just three points on the night, despite playing a team-high 26 minutes, but his sharpshooting wasn’t needed on a night where the Badgers never trailed.
Evans was rightfully frustrated, as his team never got off the ground and suffered from myriad bad decisions. After such a tough night, even a free bottle of Aspire couldn’t lift his spirits.
“Is this tequila?” Evans asked. “Because if it’s not, I’m not really interested. I don’t drink either, but I’m about ready to try.”