Wisconsin (1-1) took care of business in its home opener against Eastern Illinois (0-2), taking down the Panthers 65-52. The evening began with a pregame video paying tribute to Howard Moore and his family, who experienced the tragic loss of his wife and daughter in an automobile accident earlier this year. In order to honor Coach Moore and his family, the Badgers have adopted the slogan “Do Moore, Be Moore, 4 Moore,” which appears on the team’s warm up uniforms. During the lineup announcement, Coach Moore’s son Jerell suited up in number 34 as the sixth starter and was introduced along with the rest of the team.
The team felt the emotions in the Kohl Center tonight, but as junior guard Brad Davison puts it, he believes it has helped bring a lot of people together.
“It was a very emotional night for everyone involved, our team, our athletic program, community, fans. Through that tragedy it kind of brought everyone closer together, I think that was exemplified tonight.”
However, even after an emotional start to the night, the Badgers came ready to play. Junior forward Aleem Ford got the ball rolling, putting up the first points of the game for either team. Junior forward Nate Reuvers showed up big time on defense, securing his first of nine blocks within the first four minutes of play. Reuvers remained consistent on offense and defense throughout the entire game, ending the night with a near triple double, putting up 14 points, 11 rebounds and nine blocks, which is tied for UW’s single-game record.
Reuvers has continued to work on his timing when it comes to blocking shots this season, and his teammates have taken note of his hard work in practice. Knowing their big man is in the paint to help clean things off has allowed guards like Davison to take more chances on the defensive end.
“You got a little bit of a safety net back there. His length, his timing, he has definitely worked on it a lot, we see it in practice every day so we aren’t surprised by it,” Davison said.
As for Wisconsin as a whole, the team maintained the lead for a majority of the game, but did allow the Panthers to get within one possession at times. The Badgers took a hit when junior guard D’Mitrik Trice abruptly exited the game after taking a brutal hit to the face, but returned stitched up with 3:31 left in the first half.
The Badgers experienced a bit of a dry spell when it came to knocking down shots from behind the arc in the first half, but graduate guard Brevin Pritzl showed up big time off the bench with a deep three when the team needed it most. Pritzl was instrumental again later on in the second half after the Badgers let their lead dwindle, and he contributed some much-needed points to bring the energy back.
Pritzl has been a strong shooter throughout his UW career, and the team encourages him to keep up the confidence.
“He [Pritzl] is definitely an X factor. He is one of the best shooters in the country and we get to see it every day and we are always on him to stay confident and keep shooting because not only does it get him going, but it opens up the floor for everyone else,” added Davison.
As for Eastern Illinois, the Panther’s played scrappy basketball and did not let up on their intensity until the final buzzer. Junior guard Marvin Johnson led the team with 12 points, trailed closely by junior guard George Dixon with 11 points. One reason why the Panthers were able to hang around was because despite being blocked repeatedly by Reuvers in the paint, Eastern Illinois found other ways to score, including putting up 7 three-pointers. The Badgers, on the other hand, did not have the best night from behind the arc as they finished 3-18 from three-point range.
However, one area which saw tremendous improvement was the free throw line. The Badgers were 83% from the line tonight, securing 20 points from free throws alone, and coach Greg Gard was pleased.
“Obviously the big stat that jumps out is to get to the line 24 times, and convert on a pretty good percentage of it,” said coach Gard.
Additionally, coach Gard was pleased to see sophomore guard Kobe King bounce back after his performance against St. Mary’s on Tuesday.
“I thought he took what was available, he attacked and he made good decisions when he attacked. He started playing off two feet, he started using some pump fakes…he learned, I mean our whole theme before the game today was get better.”
King finished the night as the team’s leading scorer with 18 points and 6 rebounds, including a monstrous one-handed slam which brought the crowd to its feet in the first half. After the game, Kobe mentioned how Coach Tucker helped inspire that baseline play and how he hopes to add a couple more of those to his stats this year.
“Me and coach Tucker were talking about how Coach Gard said, ‘two points is two points regardless’ and coach Tucker said ‘nah, sometimes a dunk is like 5 points, you get the crowd into it, you are feeling good.’ Hopefully I’ll get a few more of those throughout the year.”
Overall, the Badgers performed well on multiple areas of the floor, despite not nailing down consistent three-point shooting yet. Looking ahead, the Badgers will take on Marquette next at home again November 13th.