The Wisconsin men’s basketball team walked away from the Kohl Center Sunday with a season-opening victory over nonconference foe Southeastern Louisiana, thanks in large part to plenty of help from the bench.
Wisconsin (1-0) thumped Southeastern Louisiana (0-1) 87-47, and UW’s bench players pitched in 34 points and 15 rebounds.
Lions head coach Jim Yarbrough said he liked the way Wisconsin’s bench approached the game and hopes his team can learn from it.
“I was very impressed by how motivated their bench was,” Yarbrough said. “Every kid who came in for them was really motivated to play hard and that’s great commentary and great credit to [UW head] coach [Bo] Ryan. That’s the sort of thing that you try to establish at your own program when you’re building it up, try to get kids to play with that kind of motivation.”
Wisconsin’s bench was led by senior forward Mike Bruesewitz, who made a surprisingly quick return to the floor after suffering a severe leg laceration that sidelined him for just more than a month during the preseason.
“When you see your bone and a freak thing like that happens, a lot of stuff runs through your head,” Bruesewitz said. “I’m definitely recharged and refocused. I was really excited to come into the season before the injury and now it’s about 10 times more. I was really excited that I got cleared to play today. I was all smiles today and this morning and all through pregame, so I’m really excited to be back. That’s the only way to describe it.”
Bruesewitz showed little rust in his first action of the season, as the senior finished the game perfect from field, hitting all three of his shots for 10 points while also collecting three rebounds.
Ryan said he knows what Bruesewitz can do for the team and was pleased to have him on the court Sunday.
“It’s Mike,” Ryan said of his senior’s strong performance. “Just to see a guy like that back with that kind of experience, it was so obvious in practice on Friday and Saturday what he gives us, so now to have that back, we are very thankful.”
Yarbrough joked he was hoping Bruesewitz would not be able to play against Southeastern Louisiana, knowing how big a piece he is for Wisconsin’s team.
“I was extremely disappointed to see [Bruesewitz] out there today,” Yarbrough said with a smile. “They have enough weapons without him. He’s so rugged and tough. He was terrific.”
UW also saw contributions from several new faces. Freshman forward Sam Dekker took advantage of his 17 minutes on the floor, hitting two three-pointers and finishing the game with eight points and a rebound.
The highly-touted freshman received the most game time among bench players, with sophomore guard Traevon Jackson close behind after logging 15 minutes of action. Despite making two of his three long range attempts, Ryan was not happy to see Dekker launching shots behind the three-point arc early in the shot clock.
“Sam’s learning what I like and what I think is a good shot, just like everybody else has had to,” Ryan said. “It’s a little different.”
Jackson contributed during his time on the court at guard, pitching in with four points, a rebound and an assist.
After transferring from the Air Force and sitting out last season, redshirt junior forward Zach Bohannon — the brother of former UW basketball standout Jason Bohannon — made the most of his nine minutes Sunday, racking up five points and five rebounds and hitting all three of his shots on the night.
Wisconsin’s bench shot just better than 57 percent from the field, compared to the team total of 52.5 percent, and did not miss a shot from the charity stripe.
With more than half of UW’s bench players being underclassmen, Ryan said he is happy with the way the young players preformed but still sees room for improvement.
“We’ll take what they give us on the defensive end, rebounding, points, screens,” Ryan said. “It’s about the whole process that matters to us. When we break the film down, I’m sure there are some things where they can improve.”