The Kohl Center was sparsely populated Tuesday night when Wisconsin welcomed Presbyterian to town.
But those who made it out had a chance to watch one of the best offensive performances in recent memory for Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan’s program.
Ben Brust recorded his third double-double in his last four games, scoring 20 points and grabbing 12 rebounds as the Badgers (3-1) handled the Blue Hose (0-4) in an 88-43 thrashing.
Leading the Blue Hose was Khalid Mutakabbir, registering 14 points and four rebounds on the night, while Joshua Clyburn chipped in 10 of his own.
Wisconsin dished out 24 assists to just six turnovers, a marked improvement from its last game, where the team committed an uncharacteristic 16 turnovers against Cornell.
“I thought we did a better job of squaring up, getting in position to see the open man, making the next pass,” Ryan said. “I thought they improved.”
Whether it was making the extra pass or hot second half shooting — UW connected on 10-of-17 of its second half three-point attempts — Presbyterian head coach Greg Nibert was at a loss of words.
“They shot the lights out,” Nibert said. “We’ve played a lot of good teams in this five years of us being Division I, but that was the greatest display of shooting and passing that I’ve seen.”
It was over from the start, as the Badgers opened the game on a 22-2 run. UW led at the half 39-15 and at one point led by as much as 52.
The Badgers’ defense was solid as well, as the Blue Hose didn’t break double digits on the scoreboard until three minutes remained in the first half.
Presbyterian decided to play a 1-3-1 zone rather than matchup against a taller Wisconsin squad, solidifying the middle against players like Jared Berggren, Frank Kaminsky and Ryan Evans.
But Brust, who shot 6-for-9 from downtown, and his teammates moved the ball extremely well around the perimeter, tiring out their opponents and finding the open man.
At one point, Brust pulled up from just three steps beyond half-court, hitting nothing but net.
“We tried to pick our poison,” Nibert said. “We didn’t want to be chasing them around there with our size. We’re a little bit smaller and had some bad matchups … we tried to go with the zone and hope like heck that we could contest every shot.”
The crisp passing around the arc also wore down the Presbyterian players throughout the game, as the team only played a six man rotation, with four starters recorded over 30 minutes.
When the final horn sounded, six different Badgers had made a three-pointer against the Blue Hose’s zone defense.
Freshman Sam Dekker continued to show his value to the Badgers, scoring 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting — 2-for-4 from beyond the arc — in just 15 minutes of play off the bench.
Fans at the Kohl Center have already embraced Dekker in the young season, taking notice of the highly-touted freshman’s play. It was further evident Tuesday night as a buzz and gasp was audible every time Dekker pulled the trigger on a three-point attempt.
“I just try to provide a spark for our team,” Dekker said. “I’ve never had to come off the bench before, but now that I’ve done it for the past few games I’ve gotten used to it and I try to come out and bring energy on the offensive and defensive end.”
But, while Dekker was the spark, Brust was once again the star of the show for Wisconsin.
In just his fourth career game as a starter, the junior guard showed his range as a three-point specialist and outhustled every Presbyterian player on the floor for his 12 rebounds, hounding the glass and also recording two steals, constantly testing if his defender was paying attention.
“He’s got a nose for the ball,” Ryan said. “The opportunities are there sometimes, the shots bounce his way. He’s working hard, he’s getting the opportunities and he’s taking advantage of it.”
Wisconsin’s defense held Prebyterian to 36.4 percent shooting from the field and just 33.3 from beyond the arc. The number would have been far lower if the Blue Hose did not bury three consecutive three-point attempts to close the game.
“Somebody told me ‘you don’t ever want to come up here and play Wisconsin,’” Nibert said. “I’ve lost some games, but I don’t think we’ve ever lost as bad as we lost tonight. It was against a heck of a team and a heck of a coach.”