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Wisconsin impresses, routs Syracuse, 77-60

The Badgers played their best basketball of the season on Tuesday night as the Big Three of Hayes, Koenig and Happ took charge.

MADISON — Over the years, Syracuse’s vaunted zone defense has contributed to many sleepless nights for opponents. The Wisconsin Badgers, though, will sleep well after Tuesday night’s 77-60 dismantling of the Orange at the Kohl Center.

The story lines were plentiful for the No. 17 Badgers, who easily turned out their most impressive effort of the season.

Against the No. 22 Orange, forward Ethan Happ scored 24 points and grabbed 13 rebounds and guard Bronson Koenig made six three-pointers and scored 20 points, but the night’s only drama was saved for forward Nigel Hayes, who flirted with the second triple-double in school history.

Wisconsin, which hit 14 of 27 triples against the Orange in a 2012 Sweet Sixteen game, did more of the same on Tuesday. Led by Koenig’s 6-of-9 shooting from deep, the Badgers started hot and never cooled off, going 11-of-23 on three-pointers.

Opponents entered the game shooting just 20 percent on three-pointers against the Orange, but crisp ball movement and the dominant presence of Happ in the paint resulted in open looks. For Wisconsin, it was just a matter of knocking them down.

An early second-half surge helped put the game out of reach, but the senior Hayes had the sellout crowd involved in the contest until the final seconds. Hayes, who finished with nine points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists, went to the free-throw line with 39 seconds left to notch the triple-double, but missed the front end of the bonus.

Against the zone earlier in the season, the Badgers struggled to get Happ going, but the redshirt sophomore seems to have Syracuse’s number. Happ went 10-of-12 from the field and six of his 13 rebounds came on the offensive glass. Including last season’s 66-58 overtime win at the Carrier Dome, Happ has 42 points and 28 rebounds against the Orange.

Led by Koenig’s 11 points and Happ’s 11 points, eight rebounds and four assists, Wisconsin clung onto a 43-39 lead entering the half.

Wisconsin came out firing on all cylinders to open the game, jumping out to a 28-14 lead on a pair of Zak Showalter free throws with 10:01 remaining in the first half, but Andrew White III led a 20-11 Orange run to draw within two points at 39-37.

A consistent mix of inside-and-outside ball movement in the attack against the Orange 2-3 zone resulted in 1.34 points per possession for the Badgers, who hit seven of 13 three-pointers and added 10 points in the paint during the period.

Wisconsin came out to open the second half much like it did the first: on fire. A 15-2 run sparked by two Koenig triples and six points from Happ opened up the largest lead of the game at 58-41. Syracuse rattled off the next six points, but Happ and company took over from there, never allowing the Orange to make a threatening run.

While the offense rolled throughout the night, a halftime fix helped solve the Badgers’ defense troubles. After allowing an uncharacteristic 1.22 points per possession in the first half—led by White III’s 14 points—Wisconsin put forward Nigel Hayes on the senior grad transfer. Over the final 20 minutes, White III went 0-of-6 from the field and failed to score.

That defensive performance—and the showing of the Badgers as a whole—should let Hayes and company sleep easy tonight, triple-double or not.