The Wisconsin Badgers tipped off their 2022-2023 with an 85-59 win over the South Dakota Coyotes at the Kohl Center on Monday night.
The Badgers started the game with a flurry of threes, beginning with a Steven Crowl splash that set the tone for the remainder of the first half.
Additionally, Wisconsin made the pace a clear emphasis, as their first four drives averaged just six seconds long before a shot attempt or turnover, which should become the new norm for an offense that involves more guard play.
Chucky Hepburn had a slow 1/6 start, reminiscent of his 1/9 performance in Wisconsin’s scrimmage against UW-Eau Claire last weekend, but the guard had several good opportunities.
The sophomore rebounded with two straight three-pointers to end the half, including a buzzer-beating shot off a shovel pass from forward Tyler Wahl.
In the first half, the Badgers were lights out from distance, hitting nine of their 15 three-pointers, but struggled from inside the arc, as the team shot just 4/13 in that area.
Offensively, the team had several missed opportunities, as players either failed to cut efficiently when the ball reached the post, or they weren’t seen when they did.
But, the incredible shooting erased offensive woes, keeping the Coyotes at an arm's length for the majority of the first half.
Defensively, the Badgers struggled to contain guard Kruz Perrot-Hunt, who scored 17 of South Dakota’s 28 points offensively.
Perrot-Hunt specifically looked to target the pick-and-roll activity with Steven Crowl, which resulted in several made jumpers or drives to the basket.
Elsewhere, Wisconsin was able to lock down South Dakota’s offensive approach, as the remainder of the team shot just 3/17 from the field.
However, given the lack of size, the defense did give up five offensive rebounds in the first half, leading to extra opportunities for the Coyotes' offense.
In the second half, Wisconsin got out to a strong start, making four of their first six shots to pull away to a 50-34 lead.
In that stretch, the Badgers focused inside the paint, not attempting a single three-pointer, with a nice Max Klesmit baseline drive forcing the Coyotes to call timeout down 16.
Defensively, Wisconsin began the second half sound, keeping the South Dakota offense at a meager 35% from the field, while their offense continued to pull away with shots in transition.
On the perimeter, they were able to conjure steals consistently, with Chucky Hepburn showcasing defensive intensity in addition to his offensive presence.
The Badgers did showcase a stalling offense at times when operating from the half-court, as ball-handlers weren’t aggressively seeking to penetrate inside.
Instead, they looked to consistently begin from the inside, which wasn’t always there, leading to some tougher shots.
When the Badgers did penetrate from the perimeter, open shots were created, leading to a more efficient offense.
After a 17-point first half, Kruz Perrot-Hunt was quiet in the second half, shooting just 2/5 and finishing with 21 points on 10/19 shooting overall.
Without his presence, South Dakota couldn’t find an offensive identity, as Wisconsin pulled away to a 72-44 lead midway through the second half, which was their biggest of the game to that point.
Chris Hodges earned his first minutes at that point, working behind forwards Carter Gilmore and Markus Illver in the rotation.
Of the backups, Connor Essegian and Carter Gilmore earned the most minutes, playing 14 and 12 minutes, respectively.
They’ve been the most relied upon in the second unit for the second straight game, dating back to Wisconsin’s scrimmage against UW-Eau Claire last weekend.
Of the starters, Chucky Hepburn and Tyler Wahl each compiled strong efforts to begin the season.
The 6’2, 205-pound guard had 14 points on 50% shooting, along with two steals and three assists, while the 6’9 forward was Wisconsin’s leading scorer with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists.
Wahl’s intensity was noted offensively, as the junior looked to consistently push the ball down the court following rebounds, leading to positive drives in transition.
Wahl’s ability to be a ball-handler will be vital for a Wisconsin offense that looks to amp its pace in 2022.
Overall, the Badgers began the year with a strong offensive performance, scoring 85 points while shooting 51% from the field and 47% from three.
It was a team effort as four players eclipsed the double-digit mark in points: Tyler Wahl(19), Chucky Hepburn(14), Steven Crowl(12), and Max Klesmit(11).
Defensively, the Badgers rallied off their efforts from last weekend, halting the Coyotes to just 40% from the field, while allowing South Dakota to make just 13.3% of their threes.
Now, Wisconsin will head to American Family Field in a bout against the Stanford Cardinal on Friday.