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Wisconsin uses hot defensive start to win Big Ten opener vs. Rutgers

The Badgers held the Scarlet Knights to 31 percent shooting at the Kohl Center.

The No. 14 Wisconsin Badgers defeated the Rutgers Scarlet Knights 72-52 Tuesday night at the Kohl Center to win their Big Ten opener for the 13th time in the last 14 seasons.

The Badgers (12-2) had a strong defensive showing, holding the Scarlet Knights (11-3) to 31 percent shooting from the field. Rutgers is now entering its third season in the Big Ten and has yet to win a road game, going 0-19 over that span.

Nigel Hayes led all scorers with 20 points and shot 10-of-10 from the free-throw line. Zak Showalter chipped in 18 points and Ethan Happ finished with his sixth double-double of the season, with 10 points and 11 assists.

Mike Williams led Rutgers with 18 points and shot 4-of-5 from behind the arc. Nigel Johnson finished with 11 points, as only two Scarlet Knights finished in double-figures. Rutgers’s third-leading scorer, Corey Sanders, came off the bench for the first time this season and did not enter the game until midway through the first half. Sanders was 1-of-11 from the field with four points and left the game with just under six minutes remaining with an apparent ankle injury.

Rutgers started the game missing 13 of its first 14 shots and Wisconsin used that to jump out to an 8-0 lead before the Scarlet Knights got on the board.

Showalter was the driving force of Wisconsin’s initial run, picking up two steals that led to four of the Badgers’ first six points. Showalter later added in a three-pointer and scored eight of his 18 points in the first half.

Wisconsin shot 42.3 percent en route to a 33-18 lead at halftime, forcing 12 turnovers and the Scarlet Knights to shoot 24 percent from the field in the first half.

The Badgers also managed to gather eight steals, leading to a third of their first-half points.

The second half yielded a much different Rutgers team, as the Scarlet Knights only committed three turnovers and managed two 9-2 runs to rally from a 20-point deficit, bringing the game to a 53-44 Wisconsin lead with 8:19 remaining in the game.

That was as close as the game would get, as Wisconsin went on a 14-2 run to put the game out of reach. Just as in the first half, Showalter led the way for Wisconsin as the Badgers closed out the game, scoring all 10 of his second-half points during the run. Wisconsin went up 67-46 prior to a pair of Rutgers free throws with 2:31 remaining.

Wisconsin’s next game will take place on Jan. 3 when the Badgers travel to Bloomington to face No. 16 Indiana.

[Update Dec. 28: Corrected Corey Sanders’ playing time. He entered midway through the first half. We apologize for the error.]