The Wisconsin Badgers bounced back from consecutive losses with a 78-68 win over the Robert Morris Colonials in a game that had fireworks of its own.
It was a tightly contested first half, with the Badgers pounding the paint, going to Tyler Wahl and Steven Crowl early, who combined for 23 points on 8/9 shooting over the first 20 minutes.
However, Robert Morris remained competitive with an array of three pointers, shooting 7/15 from beyond the arc en route to 35 first-half points.
As a result, the Badgers led just 37-35 at halftime.
Then, in the second half, Robert Morris remained in the fold through the first 12 minutes, but the Badgers pulled away with a 12-3 run and were ultimately able to prevail in the victory.
Here are three quick takeaways from the Badgers 78-68 win over Robert Morris.
Response from bigs
After the loss to Providence, Badgers head coach Greg Gard called out veteran big men Tyler Wahl and Steven Crowl for their finishing struggles, which was a key difference maker in the game.
Against Robert Morris, it was clear pregame that Wisconsin would lean on the inside matchups, as the Colonials didn’t have a single player taller than 6’7 in the top seven of their rotation.
When their numbers were called on Friday, both players stepped up to the challenge.
Wahl and Crowl kept the Badgers in the game during the first half with their 23 first-half points on 8/9 shooting combined, and that continued to translate in the second half.
While the duo didn’t score as much in the final 20 minutes, they were a +12 and +10 in the plus-minus category, which led the team.
The Badgers need consistency from Wahl and Crowl, which has been the reason for Gard’s frustrations, but Friday was a step in the right direction with the matchup favoring their names.
The Badgers struggled to connect from deep once again, shooting 3/13, as they focused their efforts in the paint primarily with 42 points in that area.
However, three-point shooting was the reason that Robert Morris remained in the game, as the Badgers allowed the Colonials to connect on 13/29 of their three pointers.
The defense has been an unexpected issue for the Badgers this season, as they were undisciplined at times, fouling twice on three pointers early.
However, they forced a high number of turnovers for the second consecutive games, securing 21 takeaways, which aided their efforts in the win.
But, the team’s three-point shooting is something to monitor, as they shot just 25 percent in the last two games, and they converted on just 23 percent of their opportunities Friday.
Connor Essegian has been a non-factor to begin the season, earning just seven minutes in this game, missing his lone attempt from the field.
Elsewhere, Chucky Hepburn shot 1/5 from three on Friday and entered the contest shooting 30 percent after hitting nearly 41 percent of his threes last season.
It’s good to see Wisconsin find different ways to score, as they still managed to get 1.27 points per possession in the win, but their offense would unlock another level with more consistent three-point shooting.
The guard rotation has been intriguing nonetheless to begin the season, and it appeared as more of a hot hand philosophy from Greg Gard on Friday.
Max Klesmit struggled on Friday and his minutes depreciated as a result, with the starting guard seeing just 19 minutes of action, scoring two points, although he was a +7 in the plus-minus category.
Additionally, Connor Essegian, who has averaged just 7.3 minutes a game this season, played just seven minutes, while freshman guard John Blackwell continued to shine, scoring 18 points in 18 minutes on 4/5 shooting and 9/10 from the line.
Blackwell has proved to be effective for his age, finding ways to move and score without the ball in his hands, just like Essegian did last season, while being ultra-aggressive, leading to second-chance opportunities and a number of free throws.
However, the other part of the rotation mystery was Kamari McGee, who saw 17 minutes of action after averaging just 3.3 minutes a contest through the first three games.
McGee had forced two offensive fouls, showcasing his defensive tenacity, while recording a steal and being aggressive, leading to six free throws.
It’ll be intriguing how Gard continues to manage his guard lineup this season with Blackwell’s ascension and the streaky play of certain players.