MADISON, Wis. - The No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers moved to 12-0 with a 86-61 win over Eastern Kentucky on Saturday at the Kohl Center, setting a program record for their best start to a season in the modern era.
It took the Badgers a while to get some traction against Eastern Kentucky's aggressive defense, but the Badgers shot 63.2 percent in the first half after turning the ball over on two of their first three possessions. The Badgers also held the Colonels to just 33.3 percent shooting in the first half, and held the Colonels without a field goal for over five minutes.
Senior guard Ben Brust led the Badgers with 20 points, but true freshman forward Nigel Hayes beat out Sam Dekker with a career-high 17 points. Hayes made 13-of-17 shots from the free throw line in the game, and finished with one rebound and two steals as well. The Badgers finished the game shooting 60.5 percent from the field, and ended up using Eastern Kentucky's aggressive defense against the Colonels after their pressure forced two early turnovers.
"If you dribble in to a tight space that ball will get ripped out from you," Brust said of Eastern Kentucky's pressure. "You need to pick and choose when you go. [We had] a couple turnovers early but I think we did a good job of finding the gaps to drive through and finish shots."
The Badgers finished the game with 11 turnovers, whereas the Colonels had forced an average of 19 turnovers per game heading into their matchup with the Badgers.
The Badgers mirrored their offensive success on the defensive end as well, holding the Colonels to 41.4 percent shooting from the floor. Eastern Kentucky made just four of their 19 3-point shots in the game and only got to the free throw line nine times. By contrast the Badgers were at the line 33 times in the game, and made 75.8 of their shots from the charity stripe as a team.
Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said he was pleased with his team's defensive effort, because the Colonels came in to Saturday's game shooting at a much higher clip than what the Badgers allowed them in the game.
"They're a much better shooting team than this, so you've got to give our guys credit for what they did defensively," Ryan said.
With the game well in hand by the middle of the second half the Badgers also devoted a lot of minutes to some of their younger players like Hayes and Bronson Koenig, who played in 14 and 24 minutes, respectively. Koenig finished with four points and three assists, but Ryan said he would have credited the freshman point guard with a few more, since many of Hayes' foul shots came after Koenig got the ball to him near the hoop.
With the bulk of their non-conference schedule behind them the Badgers will take two weeks off to finish up their classes and take some time off for the holidays. Wisconsin's next game is scheduled for Dec. 28 at 1 p.m. at the Kohl Center. And with several players like Kaminsky and Zach Bohannon nursing injuries, the break comes at a good time for the Badgers, who have done all they can do to build up a strong resume with one game left before the start of the season's second act.
"It's good to get time off," Hayes said. "Some of the guys are starting to get beat up a little bit. We need our rest."
With a handful of top-shelf wins already in their back pocket, the Badgers have certainly earned it.
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