MADISON, Wis. -- After a stunning overtime loss to UW-Green Bay Wednesday night, the Wisconsin men's basketball team suddenly found itself in danger of dropping two straight games to in-state rivals.
The upset loss three days ago appeared to have no ill effect on the collective psyche of the Badgers, however, as they raced to a 17-point first-half lead and held on to preserve a 72-63 victory over Marquette at the Kohl Center.
Junior forward Jon Leuer said the loss to a smaller system school motivated the team as it prepared for the Golden Eagles.
"That one definitely stung a bit," Leuer said. "We wanted to get that taste out of our mouths. We were just looking forward to getting back on the court."
The Badgers got off to a hot start, shooting 58 percent from the field in the first half. They led by nine at the break and then kept pace with Marquette throughout the second period to win by the same margin.
Golden Eagles head coach Buzz Williams said he believes his team's approach during the first few minutes sealed its fate.
"We didn't handle the excitement in the right way initially," Williams said. "You can't play from behind against a great team."
Wisconsin senior point guard Trevon Hughes said his team's attitude heading into the game was not at all similar to the overconfidence with which it approached Green Bay.
"We had a lot more energy today," Hughes said. "We knew we had to win this game."
Leuer was nothing short of dominant against an undersized Marquette roster. He finished with 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting, with 12 rebounds and three blocked shots. He only saw the bench for two minutes.
Leuer said using his size advantage was part of the script.
"We definitely knew that we wanted to get the ball inside," Leuer said. "The guards did a great job of getting us the ball down low."
Head coach Bo Ryan credited Leuer's improvement as a player with his increased role in point production.
"He worked hard to get open in the post, he cut hard, and he is stronger this year," Ryan said. "He's getting in position a little better and he gets rewarded because his teammates know that he can do something with [the ball] when he gets it."
As for Leuer's teammates, Wisconsin's guards were again effective, as they have been most of this season. Ryan employed a three-guard lineup at times, which has been a common occurrence this year. Jordan Taylor came off the bench and was on the floor simultaneously with Hughes and Jason Bohannon for several stretches.
The results were positive. Hughes and Taylor scored 13 points apiece and combined for five assists. Hughes continued to drive to the basket and get to the charity stripe, where he attempted 12 free throws.
Ryan was particularly impressed with Taylor, which has been demonstrated by the sophomore's significant playing time in big games this season, and the young guard never turned the ball over Saturday.
"He's as tough-minded as any player I've ever coached," Ryan said. "He doesn't waver. He knows what needs to get done. He's going to take care of the ball."
The performances of Leuer and of the three guards were all part of a solid offensive day for the Badgers, who turned the ball over just seven times. Wisconsin has now scored at least 70 points in each of its last five games. Three of those games were wins over Maryland, Duke and, now, Marquette. That is an encouraging trend, considering many wondered where the Badgers' scoring would come from this season. They have answered their critics thus far, averaging 71.7 points per game.
Forward Lazar Hayward led the scoring for Marquette, with 21 inefficient points on 8-of-21 shooting. Hayward scored 15 of those points in the second half and also led the team with 12 rebounds. He never sat and was one of only two Golden Eagles in double figures.
Wisconsin got Marquette in foul trouble early. Jimmy Butler and Darius Johnson-Odom both fouled out in the waning minutes of the game, while Maurice Acker committed four infractions and three other Golden Eagles played with three fouls each. The Badgers made more free throws (23-of-33) than Marquette attempted (21).
"You can't let a team attempt 33 free throws," Williams said. "I don't know if you can win on the road or at home, regardless of the opponent, doing that."
Hughes said the disparity in foul shooting is something Wisconsin needs to see more of as the season progresses.
"That's Wisconsin basketball, trying to make more free throws than opponents attempt," Hughes said.
The Golden Eagles shot 41 percent from the field and put up 32 points in each half. They were never able to take the lead, much less make any kind of game-changing run, despite cutting into the Badgers' edge several times. It wasn't enough to overcome the early hole they had dug for themselves. The opening minutes featured poor shot selection by Marquette, and the Badgers pulled down 20 defensive rebounds, many of them easy collections of Golden Eagle bricks.
"We got them to take some tough shots," Leuer said. "Any time you're doing that, you give yourself a good chance to be successful."
This was the first of five straight home games for Wisconsin, which hopes to head into Big Ten play on New Year's Eve with ten wins, including top-of-the-resume victories over Arizona, Maryland, Duke and Marquette.
With the way this team has played against top competition in the early going, there is every reason to believe it will dispatch Cal Poly with considerable more ease than the football team did on the gridiron last year, when the Mustangs come to the Kohl Center Wednesday night.