After a sloppy first half that saw the Badgers trailing 9-2 at the first media timeout -- and just a 27-23 halftime -- the Badgers rode hot shooting from inside and out to defeat the Wisconsin-Green Bay Phoenix, 65-54.
A three-headed monster of Ryan Evans, Jared Berggren and Sam Dekker led the Badgers, each putting in double-digit scoring nights. Evans rebounded from rough shooting performances against Nebraska-Omaha and Marquette to score 13 points on 5-of-11 field goal shooting. Evans hit 3-of-6 at the free throw line after making just one of his last 12 over the past two games, including his first two of the game to raucous Kohl Center cheers. Berggren had 10 on 4-of-7 shooting to go with four blocks and four rebounds and Dekker put in 10 of his own behind two three-pointers on four attempts.
Wisconsin raced out of the halftime break, scoring 12 points before the under-16 media timeout to open up a 39-27 lead. They failed to pull away, however, as repeated one-and-done trips allowed the Phoenix to stay within 14 points and close the lead to nine with 7:42 to go. The Badgers bent, but didn't break -- strong shooting gave the Badgers enough offense to negate a 31-point half from the Phoenix. After just 10-for-26 shooting (38.5 percent) in the first, the Badgers knocked down 14-of-25 (56 percent) including three of eight three-point attempts.
Coach Ryan credited "a couple special [plays]" leading to backdoor scores in the second half for opening up the offense.
"If you're overplayed, there's some backdoor stuff that you can get, and sure enough we got two of 'em. If you can get something like that, does it make the defense say 'Okay, we can't overplay this or that,' I don't know, but it seemed we were able to move the ball better after that."
Ryan was referring to a pair of dunks by Berggren and Evans in the first four minutes of the second half. Wisconsin rolled to a 128.3 offensive efficiency in the period.
However, the Badgers' inability to pull away can be partially blamed on a weak rebounding performance. The Phoenix entered the game ranked 91st and 76th respectively in offensive and defensive rebound rate -- solid scores for a mid-major school but well below the Badgers' top-50 ranks in each category. However, the Phoenix boast one of the tallest teams in the country -- an effective height of 3.8 inches above average ranks 10th in the nation -- and that height showed, particularly when either Berggren or Evans were watching from the bench.
Phoenix forward Brennan Cougill, a 6-foot-9, 265 pound senior, used his size to pull in 12 rebounds (four offensive) by himself, with his 12 points forming the game's only double-double.
On the point guard front, Traevon Jackson and Marshall received 21 and 19 minutes respectively, with Jackson scoring four and dishing two assists against Marshall's six points on 2-of-3 shooting. Ben Brust owned the assist lead with five, a game high, to go with six points.
Marshall's play was heralded as a spark by Evans. The freshman's six points came on two consecutive three-pointers, pulling the Badgers to down 11-8 after the 9-2 start. "George really sparked me, and I guess Coach Ryan might've lit a little something under me. Really, the crowd and my teammates is what got me going, and if they can feed off of me and I can feed off of them, that's the way it needs to be."
Still, the Phoenix's 9-2 lead at the first media timeout held until 2:48 to go in the first half, when Berggren unleashed a thunderous dunk on Green Bay's Kam Cerroni. Berggren converted the three-point play as part of what would eventually turn into a 27-8 run extending from 6:05 to go in the first half to 12:53 to go in the second.