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3 things we learned from Wisconsin’s win over Tennessee

A big lead disappeared before the Badgers dominated the final minutes of the game in Maui.

With a 17-point lead a distant memory, the Wisconsin Badgers found themselves trailing the Tennessee Volunteers in the opening round of the Maui Invitational on Monday.

The No. 16 Badgers then used some things old and some new in pulling out to a 74-62 win.

The old: Wisconsin’s seniors stepped up once the Volunteers grabbed a 42-40 lead with 16:23 to play in the second half as guard Bronson Koenig scored a game-high 21 points and forward Nigel Hayes posted a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Forward Ethan Happ went 6-of-7 from the field and scored 16 points.

The new: The Badgers rolled out a 3-2 zone for the final eight minutes of the game to thwart the Volunteers’ offensive rhythm and any comeback attempt.

Wisconsin scored the first 12 points of the game and led 26-9 with 11:00 left in the first half after a Koenig triple. That all dissipated for the Badgers when Tennessee ran off a 17-2 run to erase a 38-25 deficit with just over one minute left in the first half.

The Volunteers rattled off the first 12 points of the second half to grab a 42-40 lead with 16:23 to play in the second half.

Led by threes from Hayes (3-of-3 from three-point range) and Koenig, Wisconsin went on a 12-2 run to gain an eight-point advantage with 7:48 remaining. From there, the Badgers’ lead was never less than six points.

Here are three things we learned:

Wisconsin cannot make that many mistakes against a more quality opponent

Led by Happ’s five turnovers, the Badgers turned the ball over 18 times—good for 27.6 percent of their possessions (thanks to Jim Polzin of the Wisconsin State Journal for the number). Wisconsin shot 56.3 percent from the field and 68.9 percent from two-point range to account for the mistakes, but against the more talented defensive teams on its schedule those turnovers will be costly.

The Badgers ran a zone... and it was effective

Somewhere, Bo Ryan is staging a coup. Not only did the Badgers turn the ball over 18 times, but head coach Greg Gard employed a defensive zone for the final stretch of the game. The Volunteers (unofficially) scored 14 points on 13 possessions against the zone, which is more than the Badgers would want. Four of those came on second-chance jumpers on possessions where Wisconsin did not find a man to box out, and there were low-percentage shots that found the bottom of the net. Over the final 5:41 of the game, though, the Badgers forced five turnovers with the zone. Four of those came in the final 90 seconds. Tennessee turned the ball over only five times until Wisconsin went to the zone.

When it’s working, Wisconsin’s Big Three is tough to stop

The Hayes/Koenig/Happ combination scored 54 points on 19-of-30 shooting, grabbed 14 board and had seven assists. When the going got rough for Wisconsin, it was that trio that sparked the 12-2 run to reestablish the lead. Hayes’s outside shooting, as well as nine free-throw attempts, were pivotal to his performance. Koenig continued his incredible two-point efficiency, making all six of his shots inside the arc. On the season, the senior guard is 21-of-23 on two-point attempts.

Freshman guard D’Mitrik Trice was impressive once again, and Gard kept him on the floor throughout the final stretch of the game. Trice scored five points on two field-goal attempts and added four rebounds and three assists. He continues to assert himself and give himself more minutes.