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Wisconsin basketball: Eastern Illinois game recap

The Badgers beat the Panthers by 10 points in their opening game of the season.

NCAA Basketball: Eastern Illinois at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

The Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team was back on the hardwood late Wednesday night to tip-off their season against the Eastern Illinois Panthers. The two teams played last year in a close contest that followed a touching tribute to Howard Moore and his family.

This season, the Badgers entered with much higher expectations, and were able to get their first victory of the year, albeit in close fashion, as Wisconsin held off Eastern Illinois for a 10-point win.

Early on in the game, Wisconsin was able to go inside to Nate Reuvers who was hot with seven of the team’s first nine points.

After the first media timeout, a pair of freshmen, Johnny Davis and Ben Carlson, were able to get into the scoring column in their first game action at the college level. The duo looked good offensively, and helped propel the Badgers to a 15-10 advantage halfway through the first half.

Wisconsin was able to extend their lead during the latter stages of the first half thanks to a 12-0 run that included three-pointers by Micah Potter and Brad Davison, and some continued strong play by Ben Carlson.

The Badgers went into the intermission sporting a 23-point advantage with nine assists, and held EIU to only 23.5% shooting.

In the early moments of the second half a third freshman saw the court, as big man Steven Crowl was the first player off the bench.

While Crowl did not impact the game nearly as much as Davis and Carlson, the Badgers were able to maintain their distance from Eastern Illinois heading into the first media timeout.

Following the timeout, the Panthers were able to chip away at the deficit a bit after a 16-3 run, and some stagnation by the Badgers on offense. Tyler Wahl would give the team a nice boost though, and push the Wisconsin lead back to 17 with 6:31 remaining.

Over the final minutes of the game, the Badgers turned to the bench, and EIU was able to close the gap slightly.

In the end, Wisconsin would hold on and win 77 to 67.

Notable stat lines:

  • Nate Reuvers —> 18 points (6-of-10 shooting), nine rebounds, five blocks
  • Micah Potter —> nine points (3-of-7 shooting), eight rebounds, two assists
  • Ben Carlson —> 13 points (4-of-5 shooting), two rebounds, one block
  • Josiah Wallace —> 22 points (9-of-16 shooting), four rebounds, three assists

Three things that stood out

No. 1: Freshmen debuts

Greg Gard made it clear early in the game that he has confidence in a pair of his freshmen. Both Ben Carlson and Jonathan Davis were inserted into the game shortly after the first media timeout, and boy did they perform.

The duo sparked the team on both ends of the court in the first half. Both players scored eight points at the midpoint, and immediately showed why they were highly sought after four-star prospects in high school.

As previously mentioned, in the second half Steven Crowl also got in on the action with his first collegiate minutes as well. A fourth freshman, Carter Gilmore, also saw late minutes in mop up duty.

Carlson and Davis though were the story, as the two youngsters combined for 21 points.

No. 2: Lengthy lineups

One thing that jumps out about the Badgers this season is the interchangeability that Greg Gard has with his lineups. The team has a whole host of senior leaders, and a youthful infusion of talented options like Tyler Wahl, Ben Carlson and Jonathan Davis.

The starting lineup is comprised of five seniors, and the group possesses some great length with two 6-foot-10+ forwards in Potter and Reuvers, and 6-foot-8 Aleem Ford holding down the small forward role. Tyler Wahl’s growth spurt to 6-foot-9 adds another long body to play either forward spot to spell Reuvers/Potter or Ford, and Ben Carlson is another 6-foot-9 forward to help out the frontcourt as well.

Gard shifted those five players up and down his lineup against a shorter Eastern Illinois team. It will be interesting to see if Gard continues to do this moving forward this season, because that added versatility could really help this team with the toughness of the B1G this season.

The team was outrebounded by Eastern Illinois 40 to 37, giving this group an area of needed improvement ahead of Big Ten play, but the length and flexibility that the front court rotation possesses is definitely a positive development.

No. 3: Balanced scoring

Last season, all five of the Badgers starters against Eastern Illinois averaged over eight points per game. Three of those players (Reuvers, Potter, Davison) averaged in double-figures.

In the opening game, Wisconsin continued to have a balanced attack that distributed shots across many players.

Six different players attempted six or more shots against Eastern Illinois, while three players (Reuvers, Carlson, and Trice) scored over 10 points.

On a team without a a star player to lean on, Wisconsin will need consistent production from across the team to produce this season and meet lofty expectations.

Up next: The Badgers will be back in action on Friday against Arkansas Pine-Bluff. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. CST on BTN.