MADISON -- During halftime, Wisconsin Badgers head coach Bo Ryan peered over the first half stat sheet. Staring him in the face was the potential for a bad omen.
Wisconsin led 37-26 after the first 20 minutes of their showdown with the Temple Owls on Saturday at the Kohl Center, but six Badgers were tied for the team-high in scoring—with six points each.
"You know what? I saw triple sixes and it made me real nervous," Ryan said. "Six-six-six and then six-six-six; I had never seen it before."
On this afternoon, however, Ryan need not worry as his Badgers (6-3) relied on a pesky defensive effort and runs of 19-2 and 13-0 in a decisive 76-60 win over the Temple Owls (3-4).
Junior forward Nigel Hayes scored 18 points and grabbed 12 rebounds and junior guard Bronson Koenig added 17 points as the Badgers kicked off a seven-game home stand.
There was no need for superstitions when grit on both sides of the ball was running rampant for the Badgers.
"I thought they showed the requisite toughness that they needed," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. "And we needed to be a little more tougher than we were."
Pegged as the biggest mystery team in the country by Ryan after a 66-58 overtime win at No. 14 Syracuse three days prior, perhaps the Badgers are beginning to figure out some pieces to the puzzle.
The biggest of the pieces to that enigmatic puzzle may be the defense, which took a big step forward against the Owls. Wisconsin held Temple 11 points below their season scoring average of 71 points.
"We evidently did a pretty good job because that Temple team can score," Ryan said. "They're pretty good offensively."
Limiting drives to the rim and forcing long, contested jumpers, the Badgers stymied Temple to 22-for-58 shooting (37.9 percent), including seven of 20 from three-point range.
"I thought we did a nice job of not giving up easy baskets at the rim," Ryan said.
Hayes, once again playing the role of defensive stopper, held the Owls' leading scorer, guard Quenton DeCosey, to five points on one-for-six shooting.
"It's always a joy to go out and guard the other team's best player and for them to score, not only below their average, but try and hold them well below their average," Hayes said.
Leading 11-10 after trading baskets with the Owls for the game's first nine minutes, the Badgers unleashed on offense by scoring on nine of their next 10 possessions to jump out to a 30-12 advantage.
Taken straight out a page from the Kentucky Wildcats, Wisconsin's true freshmen went on a 12-0 run of their own as the Badgers expanded their lead by 17 points.
Freshmen forwards Alex Illikainen and Charlie Thomas both scored six points each in a span of just over two minutes to help pad the lead.
"Those guys were doing a nice job, especially with two guys sitting on the bench with two fouls," Ryan said. "They were opportunistic."
The Owls were able to shave the lead down to 11 points by halftime, and were within five with 17:38 left in the second half.
Firing on all cylinders to open the second half, Temple scored eight of the half's first 10 points to draw within 39-34.
That would be as close as they would get.
Wisconsin responded with a three pointer from junior guard Zak Showalter that sparked a 13-0 run to rebuild the lead to 52-34.
"I liked where we were early in the second half," Dunphy said. "We got them to five and I think Showalter maybe had a huge three, so that was a big play. And then they spaced us right back out again."
Temple would not draw within less than 14 points the rest of the way as the Badgers closed out what may have been their best all-around performance to this point.
The Badgers shared scoring duties equally in the first half, which sat well on the scoreboard but not in the stomachs of the superstitious.
To go along with Thomas' and Illikainen's unexpected outbursts, Hayes, Koenig, Showalter and redshirt freshman forward Ethan Happ all had six points at the half as Wisconsin led by 11.
Thomas and Illikainen, like the rest of the Badgers, seem to be getting more comfortable as the season progresses.
"I just think it's me becoming more comfortable in the game and just taking advantages of the best opportunities, hitting the open shots, going for the offensive and defensive boards," Thomas, who finished with nine points and six rebounds, said.
Keeping the Owls at arms' length for nearly the entire second half, the Badgers took much better care of the ball. After committing 20 turnovers against Syracuse, Wisconsin only coughed up the Sterling seven times on Saturday.
"What we didn't do with only seven turnovers, we didn't put them in position to score off our mistakes," Ryan said.
Led by the frontcourt, the Badgers also purely out-muscled and out-hustled the Owls. Wisconsin scored 30 points in the paint to Temple's 18 and held the rebounding edge 38-29. Through nine games, the Badgers have yet to be out-rebounded by an opponent.
Coming into the game making only 30 percent of their three-pointers on the season, the Badgers, led by a 3-for-5 effort from Koenig, connected on six of 11 attempts.
One Badger that didn't attempt a triple, however, was Hayes, who came in shooting just 27.3 percent from deep.
"It was just something that occurred," Hayes said of having zero three-point attempts. "A lot of teams, so far, it seems like they're to do the same thing they did last year by putting a smaller guy on me, which I don't know why people do that. I just try my best to take advantage of my height and size on the inside."
Hayes flew over a flock of Owls situated in the paint for a put-back dunk that served as the highlight of the game to give the Badgers a 32-16 lead. He also bullied the smaller Temple defenders during Wisconsin's 13-0 second half run, in particular, working down low to score six of the team's points in that stretch.
Showalter scored 11 points to go along with four rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block in another do-it-all performance. Happ added nine points and four rebounds to round out the team leaders.
Forward Jaylen Bond was one of few Owls that shot well from the field, making six of 13 attempts for a team-high 12 points. Guard Levan Alston, Jr. hit both of his three-point attempts and scored 11 points, while guard Trey Lowe finished with 10 points.
As a team, the Badgers shot 45.8 percent, making 27 of 59 field goal attempts, and went 16-for-21 at the free throw line.
Coming away with consecutive victories over quality opponents after a 65-48 drubbing at No. 7 Oklahoma was precisely what the doctor ordered for this Wisconsin team, but the Badgers still acknowledge the work that lies ahead.
"Egypt wasn't built in a day, so it's definitely a growing process that I'm definitely excited to be a part of," Hayes said.