The University of Wisconsin ended the second half of Tuesday’s game against Pennsylvania State University with a 24-point advantage in the second half, disguising every trace of what was a three-point, pound-for-pound battle in the first.
The biggest surprise of Tuesday night was when the Nittany Lions took the locker room at the half six out of 10 from beyond the arc and a 52 percent shooting from the floor. Heading into the match, PSU ranked last in the Big Ten for field goal percentage at 40.9 percent.
Gard said his team has a knack for self-diagnosing problems from the first half and constantly communicate what changes need to be made among themselves.
“I probably didn’t say anything [at the half] new that they didn’t already hear from a teammate,” Gard said.
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PSU’s leading scorer, junior guard Shep Garner, lead the offensive charge for the team with 9 points on 3-3 attempts from downtown, 3-4 from the floor overall.
Every time the Badgers seemed to manufacture a hard-earned bucket, the Lions silenced the Wisconsin faithful with a piercing three from either Garner or Payton Banks.
“We had to re-emphasize our rules in transition, and we have to have some pride in that, and we did,” Gard said.
On the other end of the hardwood, the Badgers finished the first half just under 40 percent as a team from the floor, and a mere 33 percent from three. The Badger bench wasn’t much a factor either with only two points on 1-5 shooting.
Yet, thanks to an enormous second half, the Badgers and Lions traded places in the box score when it came to shooting percentage. Penn State quickly fell behind as a 16-5 run to open the half by Badgers put the Lions in a seemingly insurmountable 14-point hole.
“Taking it one possession at a time,” Gard said. “I don’t think there is any magic potion for playing more consistently.”
PSU finished with an abysmal 27 percent shooting in the second half, bringing the team’s total below 40 percent while the Badgers used a 15-27 performance to give UW its fourth consecutive game shooting more than 40 percent from the floor.
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Wisconsin senior guard Bronson Koenig carried the Badgers throughout the night, posting 10 points in both halves on 8-13 shooting and 4-9 from three.
It was a great night for the Badgers’ starters all around, with sophomore forward Ethan Happ posting 14 and senior forward Vitto Brown with 16.
PSU head coach Pat Chambers mentioned the difficulty that comes with neutralizing Wisconsin’s big three on offense —Hayes, Happ and Koenig.
“It’s pick your poison, you have to take advantage of Happ and Hayes and then Koenig punishes you,” Chambers said.
Brown, who left Saturday’s match against the University of Minnesota due to injury, looked at his best against the Lions Tuesday night. Shooting 75 percent from the floor, the 6-foot-8 forward even nailed a pull-up three from the top of the key with a PSU defender in face.
“We don’t play to the scoreboard, play every possession as well as possible and then usually the scoreboard takes care of itself,” Gard said.
Despite Wisconsin’s 27-point margin of victory, not every aspect of the Badgers game was as glamorous as it appeared. Hayes and Happ both shot an identical 4-8 from the free-throw line, accounting for all eight of Wisconsin’s misses on 29 attempts from the line.