The showdown turned into a beatdown.
When ninth-ranked Wisconsin visited seventh-ranked Michigan on Tuesday, it looked like a great Big Ten Conference contest in the making. Instead, the Wolverines used a 36-3 run bridging the halves to blast the Badgers 77-54.
The final margin was actually very flattering to Wisconsin, which trailed 69-29 in the second half before Michigan took its undefeated foot off the gas pedal.
The Badgers aim to bounce back with another conference road test Friday night at struggling Rutgers.
One stat from Tuesday night’s loss told Wisconsin coach Greg Gard all he needed to know.
“We only had six team fouls,” he said. “I think we only had two at half, and they were both on (Micah) Potter. That told me we were not aggressive enough. We were not physical enough, and they were.”
D’Mitrik Trice scored a game-high 20 points for the Badgers (10-3, 4-2 Big Ten) and Potter added 12, but none of them meant a thing. And it could have been a whole lot worse without them. The duo combined to hit 12 of 24 shots for a team that on the night canned 20 of 65.
Or to put it another way, if Trice or Potter didn’t shoot it, Wisconsin made 19.5 percent from the field.
Trice said the Badgers simply didn’t respond correctly until it was far too late to matter.
“They came out aggressive and we got pushed back on our heels,” he said.
Trice leads the attack at 15.2 points per game and also has a team-high 46 assists. Potter checks in at 12.5 ppg and grabs a team-best 6.9 rebounds per contest. Nate Reuvers, Aleem Ford and Brad Davison average between 9.4 and 9.8 ppg.
Wisconsin won’t find any sympathy for its Tuesday night plight when it hits the floor in New Jersey. The Scarlet Knights (7-4, 3-4) were ranked as high as 11th after starting 6-0, but they have dropped four of the past five, including a 79-68 decision at home Saturday against Ohio State.
A lack of post depth, poor first-shot defense and sketchy offensive execution have plagued Rutgers lately. Ohio State canned 51 percent from the field.
An injury to backup post Clifford Omoruyi has left Rutgers thin inside when starter Myles Johnson needs a breather. And opponents have cut off the Scarlet Knights’ transition game, forcing Rutgers to rely on a half-court offense that hasn’t gotten the job done.
“You’re going to have win streaks and losing streaks,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “You have to play 40 minutes in this league, and we’ll get ourselves to that point. The ball will start going in and we’ll start defending and rebounding better. I’m very confident in that.”
Ron Harper Jr. is the Scarlet Knights’ leading scorer at 20.1 ppg while Jacob Young adds 15.5 and Montez Mathis contributes 13.5. Rutgers is averaging 75.7 ppg but is leaving points on the table by hitting only 58 percent at the foul line.
–Field Level Media