Following an 85–48 trouncing in last Saturday’s matchup against No. 23 Louisville, the No. 9 Wisconsin men’s basketball team (8-1, 2-0 Big Ten) opened their 2020-21 Big Ten regular-season title defense with wins over Nebraska (4-5, 0-2) and No. 12 Michigan State (6-2, 0-2).
The Badgers opened conference play Tuesday night against a Nebraska team filled with a lot of new faces. Four of Nebraska’s top five scorers are transfer students, with the focal point of Head Coach Fred Hoiberg’s defense being 6-foot-6-inch junior guard and former West Virginia Mountaineer Teddy Allen. Allen entered Tuesday’s game averaging a team-best 18.3 points per game.
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The Badgers struggled mightily early on and trailed 13–5 through the first 12 minutes, shooting an abominable 1-for-15 from the floor. The Badgers dug out of an early hole, sparked by a triple from senior forward Aleem Ford. Ford’s three-point basket sparked an impressive run that propelled Wisconsin to a narrow 25–24 halftime lead.
The second half was all Badgers. Micah Potter was a crucial part of Wisconsin’s 16–0 second-half run that put the game out of reach. On his birthday, Ford added 13 points, while senior guard Brad Davison added 15. Senior forward Nathan Reuvers was the other Badger to score double figures, adding 10 points on 3-for-6 shooting.
Behind their stout defense, the Badgers only held Nebraska to 53 points in the victory. Rather than celebrating the holiday season at home, Wisconsin traveled to East Lansing for a top-15 Christmas Day showdown against No. 12 Michigan State.
This game was personal for Wisconsin’s veteran-led team. The Badgers came into the game with 12 consecutive losses in East Lansing, and Wisconsin’s senior class had never won a road game at the Breslin Center.
It was a dogfight from the tip. The game was tied after one half, but Michigan State opened a nine-point lead early in the second. The Badgers rode the hot hand of D’Mitrik Trice as the savvy 24-year-old senior guard scored 12 of the Badgers’ next 15 points to cut the once-comfortable Spartan lead to two. Trice finished with a season-high 29 points on only 14 shots.
While the Spartan defense did an impressive job of bottling up Reuvers, he broke out in the game’s critical junctures. Reuvers had three huge field goals down the stretch with the biggest being a smooth turnaround jump shot with under three minutes to play that gave Wisconsin a comfortable 75–69 lead.
Wisconsin followed with a huge defensive stop, and Ford soared out of bounds to save a critical rebound that resulted in a wide-open layup for freshman Jonathan Davis. Davis’ layup gave Wisconsin an eight-point lead, and the Badgers cruised to an 85–76 victory.
Friday’s Christmas Day win was Wisconsin’s 10th consecutive win in conference play — with their last loss being last February to Minnesota. The Badgers return to action Monday against Maryland before concluding 2020 with a game against Minnesota New Year’s Eve.