MADISON — For the second consecutive season the Wisconsin Badgers and the Syracuse Orange met up against one another in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. For the second consecutive season, the Badgers would come out victorious in a dominant 77-60 win. The big three of Ethan Happ, Nigel Hayes, and Bronson Koenig showed just how dangerous of a team they can be when all three are playing at their best.
Wisconsin had an explosive beginning to the game, leading by double digits for much of the first half. The final five minutes were Syracuse’s, however, as they battled back within four points at halftime, with the Badgers ahead 43-39.
The Badgers pushed their lead up to 11 early in the first half behind back-to-back treys from D’Mitrik Trice and Vitto Brown, but Syracuse would eventually settle down and battle their way back into the game.
Syracuse’s Andrew White III, a Nebraska transfer, kept the Orange in the game behind his 14 first half points. He was 4/6 from the three-point line, with one of those misses going almost halfway down the basket before popping out. His 14 points in the first 20 minutes were more than he had in either of the match-ups against the Badgers last year. DaJuan Coleman was 3/4 from the field in the first half with eight points. His stout frame allowed him to bully the Badgers interior defense for easy baskets.
Ethan Happ had 11 points, 8 rebounds, and four assists at halftime, while managing to only miss one shot from the field. Bronson Koenig added 11 points on 3/5 shooting from the three-point line. The Badgers did an outstanding job of moving the ball against Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone. Nigel Hayes in particular, catching the ball at the elbows, had a few nice passes down to Happ. Hayes tallied three assists during the first half. Happ additionally had a few nice kickout passes, often under duress, to Koenig for wide open three-point attempts.
The Badgers again started the half on fire on the offensive end in the second, scoring 15 of the first 17 points in the half. Bronson Koenig knocked down his fourth and fifth triples during the run, and Vitto Brown hit his third three of the game in the run as well.
The four-point halftime lead was was increased to 54-41 in four minutes of action, giving the Badgers a comfortable lead and they wouldn’t look back after that. The Badgers would continue to methodically beat the Orange’s zone while putting the clamps down on the defensive end.
“This is a really good Wisconsin team,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said after the game. “They beat us last year in Syracuse so we knew how good they are and they have everybody back.”
Much of the credit in the Badgers win can go to who everyone expected the Badgers mainstays to be this season: Happ, Hayes, and Koenig.
Bronson Koenig had a peak Bronson Koenig performance, scoring 20 points on 6/9 shooting from the three-point line. Koenig hit two threes in the beginning of each half, getting the Badgers out to a solid start in each.
Nigel Hayes was extremely passive against Syracuse and in a very good way. The senior forward had a career-high 10 assists and was tremendous in the second half as well as the first in carving up the Syracuse zone. Hayes finished the game with a near triple double, ending up a point short. Hayes’s final stat line was nine points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists. Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard left Hayes in later than the rest of the starters to let him get his final point, but Hayes would end up missing the front end of a one-and-one foul shot.
“That’s the type of all-around player he can be and is,” Gard said after the game.
“I like to pass more than score,” Hayes said after the game. “I don’t get how it’s still a secret that I’m a good passer.”
Happ had his breakout performance in last year’s victory against the Syracuse with an 18-point, 15-rebound performance. He would prove to be even more dominant in this year’s contest, totaling 24 points and 13 boards. Happ was 10/12 from the field with an array of dunks.
“He had 18 points on us last year,” Boeheim said. “We’re just not doing a good job of covering him down there.
The Badgers simply dominated in all phases of the game on their way to winning the game. The Badgers shot 11/23 as a team from the three-point line compared to Syracuse’s 6/23 effort. The Badgers out-rebounded the Orange 40-25 and additionally had 21 assists to the Orange’s nine.
Wisconsin takes on Oklahoma next on Saturday at Noon.