After defeating the Virginia Cavaliers 65-41 on Monday, the Wisconsin Badgers defeated the SMU Mustangs 69-61 in the Fort Myers Classic Finals, taking home some early-season hardware with a comeback victory.
The Badgers severely struggled on the offensive end to begin the game, shooting 11/34 in the first half, including 1/14 from three, but maintained an eight-point deficit, as they trailed SMU 32-24 going into halftime.
Then, with some offensive resurgence from Max Klesmit, Tyler Wahl, and Chucky Hepburn, the Badgers pulled off the comeback with a strong second half, ultimately prevailing in the end.
Here are the quick takeaways from the Badgers 69-61 win over SMU.
After Steven Crowl had a dominant 15-point, 10-rebound performance against the Virginia Cavaliers on Monday, it seemed clear that SMU was looking to double him every time, forcing the big man to be a facilitator.
That meant Wisconsin was going to need to find a different way to score down low, and they got that in Tyler Wahl.
I’ve been a proponent of Wahl working more as a downhill driver off the dribble, rather than working as a post-up player, and that element was on display Wednesday, as Wahl scored 14 points on 6/11 shooting.
Wahl’s aggressiveness was vital to a Badgers team struggling to hit threes (more on that in a minute), as he had eight points in the first half on 4/7 shooting, and six points in the second half on 2/4 shooting.
The Badgers have been waiting for this form of Wahl to show up, and he did so in a crucial environment with Wisconsin struggling significantly on the offensive end.
A.J. Storr had a few nice drives as well, forcing SMU’s hand at the rim, but it was the driving and finishing that won Wisconsin this game, which was courtesy of Wahl.
From the jump, it was clear that Wisconsin was going to live and die by the three-pointers, which is what SMU’s defense wanted in pushing the ball away from the paint.
By consistently doubling Crowl, a good passer, the Badgers had a ton of open threes on the day, and... struggled early.
They entered halftime shooting 1/14 from deep, and missed 14 consecutive threes at a point in the game.
But, the three pointers also brought them back into this one, as Max Klesmit hit a pair of threes to keep the low-scoring affair close in the second half.
Wisconsin will likely shoot better from three going forward, given the shooters they have on the roster, but they’ve struggled from deep to begin the season and those issues continued on Wednesday.
One thing was clear though: Wisconsin does not lack the confidence to shoot threes.
Now, SMU hit a bevy of threes in this game, but I honestly thought Wisconsin played pretty well defensively, especially inside the paint.
While the Mustangs were scoring well from deep early, the Badgers had active hands defensively, which forced a number of turnovers, as SMU ended the game with 16 giveaways in this one.
In addition, the Badgers controlled the glass on both sides, not allowing many second chance opportunities, while getting a number of offensive rebounds against the smaller opponent.
With the way, they were struggling offensively, the Badgers were going to need their defense to be up to par, especially against a fast and athletic SMU team, and they showed up for the most part.
I’ve been impressed with Wisconsin’s defense in both contests during this tournament, which is why there’s some faith in the program once their three-point woes start to feel some positive regression.