Heading into the latest edition of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the Wisconsin men’s basketball team was longing for a consistent night of shooting.
In their 87-48 victory over North Carolina State, that’s exactly what the Badgers got.
After its holiday weekend at the Old Spice Invitational, where over the course of three games Wisconsin (5-2) rotated solid shooting every other half, the Badgers converted on exactly half of their field goals while sinking 55 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc and 76.9 percent from the free throw line.
If poor shooting is contagious, the Badgers must have passed it on to the Wolfpack (4-2) before getting over the syndrome themselves as NC State shot 31.6, 30.8 and 61.8, while, at one point, going on a 10-minute cold streak without a bucket.
But it also helps to be back home in the Kohl Center, too.
“Not many teams got shots to go down in Orlando, including us,” sophomore forward Mike Bruesewitz said, who went 3-3 from three-point land. “A lot of guys just got into the gym and got some jump shots going. Plus, it’s always nice to come home.”
Against NC State’s man-to-man defense, Wisconsin was able to produce open looks off of ball screens like they have all year. Only this time the rim welcomed the Badger volley.
Junior point guard Jordan Taylor connected on shots from all over the floor, finishing 8-12 overall on the night, good for 21 points. Taylor, as well as other others, successfully attacked the rim all night, sometimes finishing with a layup or dishing the ball back to the outside for one of the bigs to hit a jumper.
“When they get penetration, their bigs pop out, they spread you out to shoot the ball and several times they caught our centers down in there going for a rotational blocked shot and then they kicked it out to their guys,” NC State head coach Sidney Lowe said. “They shot lights out, it wasn’t a surprise.”
Six different Badgers connected on at least one three-pointer, including forward Jared Berggren, who along with Bruesewitz went 3-3 from the arc. The redshirt sophomore finished with 12 points.
Senior Jon Leuer hit 7 of 11 attempts from the field, contributing a team-leading 22 points.
“It was all the same looks,” UW head coach Bo Ryan said. “We had some good runs in those games (at the Old Spice Classic) where it looked like we shot miserably percentage wise. I just think the guys haven’t panicked, they’ve just ran good offense, got good looks and shots went down.”
When the Badgers weren’t kicking the ball to the outside, the Badgers drove to the basket and earned their freebies at the charity stripe. After failing to get to the free throw line frequently against Notre Dame’s 2-3 zone defense, Wisconsin’s aggressive cuts to the basket against the Wolfpack easily drew fouls on the young team. At the line Wisconsin added another 20 points.
“We were making hard cuts and a lot of times when you make hard cuts like that they’re going to grab and hold and the officials will see that and that’s how we were able to build up a lot of fouls against them,” Leuer said. “Anytime we can outshoot our opposition in free throws we have a really good chance at winning.”
Over the course of the 10-minute Wolfpack drought during which the Badgers proceeded to go on a 23-0 point run, the Badgers, at one point, hit seven shots in a row.
Entering the game, Ryan had not expressed much concern over his offense’s recent scoring inconsistencies as it was always looking to make the next shot.
So when asked how the team was able to shake it off for NC State, Ryan had a simple answer.
“[You] make a basket or two,” he said. “It’s got to go through the net. You have to believe that when you shoot the next one’s going in.”