Wisconsin (0-1) looks to bounce back after a narrow 65-63 overtime loss against No. 20 St. Mary’s on the road Tuesday. The Badgers will kick off home play against Eastern Illinois (0-1), who also suffered a 71-59 loss against No. 13 Texas Tech in its season opener.
The scoring for Eastern Illinois was pretty evenly distributed among its starters. Junior forward Rade Kukuobat led the Panthers in scoring with 12 points, followed by junior guard Mack Smith with 11 points. Kukuobat proved to be explosive in the beginning of the game, scoring 5 points in the first three minutes, but then fell quiet for the remainder of the first half. Panther’s senior forward Jaqualis Matlock, who only averaged 5 points last season, ended the night with 8 points and was instrumental in keeping Eastern Illinois in the game with Texas Tech by securing defensive rebounds. The Panther hung with Texas Tech, and even led in parts of the first half, but with just over two minutes left in the first, Texas Tech took control with a 13-0 run, securing a 38-28 lead to end the half.
Consequently, Texas Tech came out blazing in the second half and quickly went up by 20 points, maintaining that lead until the end. Notably, 9 Panthers put points on the board throughout the game, but unfortunately, their 19 turnovers proved fatal.
Looking at the Badger’s performance against St. Mary’s, there are quite a few positives, despite the final score of the game. First off, junior forward Nate Reuvers proved he has what it takes to fill the hole left by Ethan Happ. Reuvers led Wisconsin with 22 points, which tied his season high during the 2018-19 season against Illinois. Reuvers was also effective on the boards, bringing down 6 rebounds and 4 blocks for the night. Alongside Reuvers in scoring was junior guard Brad Davison with 16 points.
Frankly, the ultimate demise of the Badgers was their inability to stop senior guard Jordan Ford who led St. Mary’s with 26 points. Ford went 4-8 from behind the arc and was nearly unstoppable on his way to the basket.
Looking ahead to its matchup against Eastern Illinois, Wisconsin must hone in on a few areas. First, free-throws are a must. The Badgers struggled from behind the line last season, and even fared poorly during its exhibition game against UW La-Crosse. However, the Badgers did perform better against St. Mary’s, going 14-20 at the line. Additionally, Wisconsin needs to find ways to generate offense from mid-range and beyond. In the last few minutes of regulation against St. Mary’s, Wisconsin wanted to get the ball into Reuvers, but he was nearly triple teamed which led to a quick, missed shot from behind the arc in the final few seconds. Davison showed he is capable to put up big numbers while also being efficient on the defensive end, stepping up to take the charges he is known for. Wisconsin will need to rely on Davison and junior guard D’Mitrik Trice to knock down those big outside shots.
Matchup wise, for the Panthers, Smith is one of the more dominant offensive players for the team. He averaged a little over 12 points for Eastern Illinois last season, and was regularly a top scorer. One thing Wisconsin will need to remain cognizant of is that the Panthers are not dominated by one player, but instead generate a majority of their points from 4 or 5 players. That being said, every man-to-man matchup will be key.
The Badgers bring it back home to the Kohl center Friday November 8th. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. after a special pregame honoring Howard Moore and his family.