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Wisconsin men’s basketball: North Carolina NCAA Tournament recap

The Badgers walloped the Tar Heels thanks to huge games from Brad Davison and D’Mitrik Trice.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Wisconsin at North Carolina IndyStar-USA TODAY Sports

The Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team (18-12 overall, 10-10 B1G) came into the season with sky-high expectations. After an up and down regular season, the Badgers earned a No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament and were set to face the No. 8 seed North Carolina Tar Heels.

With all games taking place in the state of Indiana, the Badgers drew a first round matchup with UNC in Mackey Arena (home of Purdue). The Tar Heels, like the Badgers, struggled with consistency all season long, but came into the game with one of the longer front courts in the entire tournament field.

In a huge Friday night matchup for the chance to play No. 1 seed Baylor in the second round, the Badgers reigned victorious and earned the opportunity to keep dancing.

Wisconsin would jump out to an early lead behind some solid shooting and four points off of some quick turnovers by the Tar Heels. The Badgers held a 16-12 lead at the 12 minute mark, with Brad Davison and D’Mitrik Trice pacing the team with 11 early points combined.

Wisconsin was able to build on their advantage over the next eight minutes to take a 32-21 lead with 3:16 left in the first half. During that span the Badgers did a phenomenal job of scoring inside and also hit some timely three-pointers to take advantage of more North Carolina turnovers.

The Badgers would close the half on an 8-0 run to take a 16-point lead into the intermission.

Wisconsin continued their hot shooting in the early moments of the second half, making three of their first four three-point attempts to maintain a 16-point edge at the first media timeout.

North Carolina would find some easy buckets inside and speed up the tempo of the game to cut into the deficit a bit with 11 and a half minutes remaining.

Then Brad Davison happened, again. The senior guard and freshman Jonathan Davis would catapult the Badgers forward to grab an 18-point with just over eight minutes to play.

The Badgers would throw it into cruise control from there, and unload the bench late to grab a big 85-62 win.

Notable stat lines:

  • Brad Davison —> 29 points (10-of-15 from the floor), six rebounds, one assist
  • D’Mitrik Trice —> 21 points (8-of-15 from the floor), five rebounds, three assists
  • Micah Potter —> 9 points (3-of-6 from the floor), four rebounds, three assists, three blocks
  • Armando Bacot (UNC) —> 15 points (6-of-9 from the floor), four rebounds, one assists

Three things that stood out:

No. 1: Frontcourt play

Coming into the game a major talking points was the height of North Carolina. With multiple 7-footers in the rotation, the Tar Heels were one of the best inside scoring and rebounding teams in the entire country all season long. In the first half though the Wisconsin frontcourt held their own.

The Badgers outrebounded UNC by three in the first half, including a positive rebounding margin on both ends of the court. Not only did Nate Reuvers and Micah Potter hang tough down low, but freshman 7-footer Steven Crowl also added spotty contributions off the bench as well.

All in all, Reuvers and Potter combined for seven blocked shots and nine rebounds, while also holding the North Carolina frontcourt relatively in check for most of the game. Potter was exceptional on the defensive end and finished the contest +28, a team best.

While the Wisconsin starting backcourt did most of the damage in the scoring column (50 points for the game), the frontcourt played remarkably strong against a very talented frontline of the Tar Heels. Nate Reuvers and Micah Potter had struggles at times this season against length, but against North Carolina they put together one of their best all-around performances on the defensive end. Their impact on the glass and in the paint was a huge reason for how well Wisconsin played.

No. 2: Firepower

The Badgers put together one of their best first-half performances of the year against North Carolina.

The Badgers came out with a lot of energy, and that helped propel them to that big halftime lead. Not only were the players excited and engaged in the game, but the bench was also heavily involved. For a team that has gone through massive cold streaks and energy issues all season long, to see the Badgers as the aggressors in the first half was a positive sight for their tournament prospectus.

The heightened energy from the team led to to improved shooting in the first half. The Badgers made 6-of-14 from three, and the strong shooting did not stop in the second stanza.

Wisconsin finished the game shooting 50.8% from the floor and a scorching 48% from three-point range. The Badgers routinely struggled with scoring droughts and three-point shooting woes all season long, but in the biggest game of the year the shots fell.

No. 3: March Bradness

Big shot Brad was absolutely on fire against North Carolina. The senior leader was all over the court and displayed why Greg Gard consistently calls him the heartbeat of the team. Davison shot only 30% from the floor during the regular season, but in the biggest game of the year he delivered in a major way.

For the game Davison finished with 29 points on 66% shooting from the floor, including 5-of-7 from three.

With the talent and length that North Carolina had inside it was very important for the Badgers backcourt to make some shots. Davison put together his best game of the year, and helped lead the team despite playing essentially the entirety of the game.

Up next: The Badgers will be back in action on Sunday against Baylor, looking to knock off the top seeded Bears.