From the opening tip, there was never a doubt as Wisconsin dominated Division II opponent Bemidji State 90-54 in Wednesday’s exhibition game at the Kohl Center.
The Badgers opened the game with a dunk from junior Jon Leuer and they never looked back as they outplayed the Beavers, who never led, in all facets of the game. Leuer looked good early and he sustained that strong play throughout, leading Wisconsin with 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field and 1-for-1 from 3-point range.
Following an offseason emphasis on finishing strong, Leuer’s dunk really set the tone.
“Rather than just laying it in or trying to draw a foul, he went up and dunked it strong,” senior guard Jason Bohannon said of the play. “That was a big play right there just to show how much more physical he’s gotten.”
Leuer added five rebounds to lead the Badgers as well as an assist and two steals.
In the first half, Leuer was a perfect 4-for-4 from the field, helping Wisconsin jump out to a 46-22 lead at the half. He did not lead the team in the first half, though.
With 10 points, five assists and four rebounds, Bohannon was the team’s driving force in the first 20 minutes of play, as the Badgers led by as many as 26 points before the break.
“It was good for us,” Bohannon said of the big lead. “Bemidji State came out and hit some tough shots right at the beginning and we were playing good defense. We kind of struggled a bit (early) … but once we got going and got in the flow of everything, I thought our team did a very good job.”
Bohannon finished second behind Leuer with 14 points in the game, connecting on 4-of-8 shots, including 3-for-6 from beyond the arc and 3-of-4 from the line.
Perhaps more importantly, though, the 6-foot-2 guard showed he could be more than just a scoring threat for Wisconsin, dishing out six assists to just two turnovers in the game.
Trevon Hughes, the Badgers’ other senior starting guard, also had a solid game, tallying seven assists to just two turnovers and adding eight points on 3-of-4 shooting and 2-for-2 at the charity stripe.
It was a pair of young guards, however, that stole the show Wednesday night.
One was sophomore Rob Wilson, who looked more comfortable against Bemidji State than he did at anytime last season, which he attributed to having another year under his belt.
“It’s a lot of maturity,” Wilson said. “(After) going through a lot more repetitions, (I am) getting a lot more comfortable this year than last year.”
Wilson shared the team lead with Bohannon, scoring 10 points in the first half, while adding just two after the break.
In the second half, Ryan Evans really shined, scoring nine of his 12 points.
Evans added five blocks, one rebound and two steals in the game, giving him a stat line that could make it tough for head coach Bo Ryan to keep him out of the lineup.
“All Ryan Evans ever said was, ‘Man I’d love a chance to play at Wisconsin, I think I can do it.’ So he’s trying to prove that,” Ryan said. “Boy, coaching those kind of guys is so much fun. I just hope he keeps getting better.”
Evans continued to shine as he did in the Red-White scrimmage, becoming a fan favorite early in the season because of his aggressive, electrifying play.
Likewise, Wisconsin continued to extend its lead over Bemidji State, even after reserves Brett Valentyn, J.P. Gavinski and Mike Bruesewitz saw extended time on the court. The Badgers’ largest lead came with 14:11 remaining in the game, as they led 68-29 following a pair of Evans free throws.
Evans’ free throws capped off an impressive 19-7 run to open the second half for the Badgers, something that put the Beavers away for good.
Bemidji State shot 22-of-55 from the field as the Beavers finished with a 40 percent mark from the field, but reached the foul line just five times, making four of its tries. Wisconsin, on the other hand, made 52.4 percent of its shots and reached the free throw line 32 times, but managed to connect on just 19 attempts.
Although Bemidji State head coach Matt Bowen knew his team was not at the level of its Big Ten opponent, the way his team performed ultimately was disappointing.
“I just wish we would have given Wisconsin a better game,” he said. “We did not play up to par; I thought Wisconsin played pretty well. They do what they do well: They defended very well, they got to the free throw line, they were patient on offense and forced us to foul them. That was basically the game in a nutshell for us.”