The No. 7 Wisconsin Badgers (1-0) took care of business against the Eastern Illinois Panthers (0-1) Wednesday night, winning 77-67 in the Badgers first game against a real opponent in nearly nine months.
“It’s good to get back on the court, albeit in a strange environment without fans,” Head Coach Greg Gard said after the game. “Every game that we’re able to [play] this season is a step in the right direction.”
The Badgers never trailed during the game, leading by as many as 27 in the early minutes of the second half. Nate Reuvers led Wisconsin with 18 points, nine rebounds and five blocks on the night — moving him within five blocks of Ethan Happ’s all-time Wisconsin record.
“It was great to get out there and play finally,” Reuvers said.
Freshman forward Ben Carlson put up 13 points in his Badger debut, while D’Mitrik Trice scored 11.
The Badgers dominated the first half, jumping out to a 43-20 lead and holding Eastern Illinois to just 25 percent from the field with four blocks and a couple steals.
However the team looked sloppy in the second half after Eastern Illinois switched to zone schemes on defense. Wisconsin shot just 32 percent in the second half, struggling to get good looks inside the paint for the forwards.
Senior guard Josiah Wallace scored a game-high 22 points to lead Eastern Illinois, while senior forward George Dixon, a Milwaukee native, had eight points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
“It was a lot of feeling out the game and trying to get comfortable, even for the older guys it has been a while since everyone has played,” Gard said. “It’s early but we’ll need to work on our consistency without a crowd to help pick us up, it’s a little eerie in there.”
Gard played Carlson and fellow freshman Johnny Davis often in the game, with both finishing above 15 minutes played. Carlson looked solid all night, shooting 4-5 from the field with one made three and 4-4 from the free throw line, adding two rebounds and a block as well.
Davis had eight at halftime and flashed huge potential on both ends of the court — splashing a floater on his first shot of the game, then promptly blocking a shot on defense.
“I knew they were really nervous [before the game],” Gard said. “I went around the room and all the freshmen said they had a lot of butterflies, but I thought they all looked pretty comfortable. For them to get that type of experience and have some things not go their way or make some mistakes, that’s OK. That’s how you learn.”
UW will be back in action against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Friday night. The Golden Lions also opened their season Wednesday night, losing 99-57 at Marquette. Tip off is set for 8 p.m..