[media-credit name="Andy Fate" align="alignright" width="336"][/media-credit]No motor will run without a spark plug, and on Wednesday night, it was Ben Brust’s turn to spark the Wisconsin men’s basketball team’s motor.
Brust, with a perfect first half from the field and a game-high 18 points, lifted No. 4 Wisconsin (11-0) to a convincing 78-53 win over UW-Milwaukee (9-3) at home.
The Badgers got off to a notoriously slow start, committing three turnovers and missing two shots before it made its first field goal with almost four minutes gone in the first half.
“Our first four minutes tonight were something that we shouldn’t have had,” sophomore forward Sam Dekker said. “We came out flat, didn’t take the good shots and had a couple of turnovers.”
The Badgers were able to survive their early-game slump thanks to a strong defense that held the Panthers to just two field goals in the first 10 minutes of the opening half.
After Brust jump-started the Badgers with three buckets from downtown in five minutes, Wisconsin began to get on a roll making 10-straight shots from the field — not missing a shot for nearly nine minutes.
“It was just a product of having some good offense – driving, kicking, finding guys,” Brust said.
Wisconsin’s hot end to the first half was highlighted by a Traevon Jackson dunk over Milwaukee’s 6-foot-7 forward Malcolm Moore.
“He’s always been telling us since the summer that he’s going to get some dunks,” Dekker said. “It’s his birthday too so he’s got a little extra pep in his step. That was a sweet finish.”
On the back of Brust’s 16 first-half points and a team shooting percentage of 64 percent, the Badgers went to the locker room with a comfortable 45-25 lead.
“You can’t spot the No. 4 ranked team in the country 20 points and in the second half think you’re going to have a chance to really cut into a team like Wisconsin,” UW-Milwaukee head coach Rob Jeter said.
The Panthers made an early second-half push making their first six of seven shots from the floor while Milwaukee’s Kyle Kelm did his best to keep the deficit within reach putting up eight points in the final half and a team-high 17 for the game.
Brust and Wisconsin’s offense couldn’t keep up with its first-half pace — going 1-13 (7.7 percent) from beyond the arch — while the senior guard was held to just two points in the final 20 minutes.
Wisconsin was able to keep distance with Milwaukee by finding points in the paint, scoring 22 of its 38 points in the lane in the second half.
“I thought we worked extremely hard in the post,” head coach Bo Ryan said. “We knew we were in for a battle inside.”
The Badgers’ big post presence, tough defense and opportunistic offense scored 28 points off turnovers to seal Wisconsin’s 11th win of the season.
“I thought defensively we did a good job of getting our hands on some passes and creating some turnovers,” Ryan said. “I thought our guys did a pretty good job of getting deflections and turning those into points, and those are huge.”
With Wednesday’s win over Milwaukee, Wisconsin swept the in-state series for the first time since 2010 and matched its best start (11-0) in program history.
“Yay for the team,” Ryan said of his team’s 11 straight wins. “Our guys have played good teams and they get credit. You get credit for what you’ve done to this point.
“It’s like in class, you do your assignments and then you get credit for them. If you do them well you get stars on your paper or a pat on the back. If you stop doing them well everything goes the other way. So far up to this point they’ve found a way to get a lot of things done.”
Though Wisconsin is ranked in the top five and owns a program-best record, Brust knows there is still a log of growing that needs to be done before his team is ready for conference play.
“There’s no denying we’ve had a good start, being 11-o, but we still know that it’s going to get much, much harder moving forward,” Brust said. “The Big Ten is just something different … You have to remember that it all resets come January. But we’ve go to finish out what we have here.”