Steven Crowl has big night as Wisconsin Badgers enjoy rare breather against Western Michigan
MADISON – Wisconsin coach Greg Gard got a rare breather Friday night at the Kohl Center.
UW got off to a strong start by attacking the lane, sputtered late in the first half by relying too frequently on three-pointers but then took control early in the second half en route to building an 18-point lead and closed nonconference play with a 76-66 victory over Western Michigan.
Consider the 10-point victory in front of a crowd of 15,138 a belated Christmas present for a coach whose team had played in seven consecutive games decided by five points or fewer until a 22-point victory over Lehigh on Dec. 15.
“It is good for them,” Gard said of the starters, who were out for the final 2 minutes 39 seconds after Steven Crowl hit a three-pointer to give UW a 74-56 lead. “But it’s also good for the guys that are in there at the end. To get 2½ minutes for Markus (Ilver) and a little extra time for Kamari (McGee)…there are going to be times when they’re going to have play more than 2½ minutes.”
The victory Friday allowed the 15th-ranked Badgers (10-2, 2-0 Big Ten) to extend their winning streak to five games and match their record through 12 games last season.
UW resumes Big Ten play at 8 p.m. Tuesday against visiting Minnesota (6-6, 0-2).
Crowl, averaging 12.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.8 assists in the previous five games, decimated Western Michigan (4-9).
The junior scored 10 points in the first 4:26 of the second half to help UW turn a two-point lead into a 14-point advantage. He finished with a college-high 25 points, including 20 in the second half; eight rebounds; and two assists. Crowl hit 3 of 5 three-pointers, 9 of 13 shots overall and 4 of 5 free throws.
“He finished plays,” Gard said. “He is playing more physical. More confident.”
Chucky Hepburn added 11 points, five rebounds, five assists and just one turnover. He helped UW finish with 16 assists on 28 baskets and only four turnovers, including none in the second half.
Tyler Wahl added 10 points, five rebounds and two assists. Jordan Davis added nine points, two rebounds and two assists. Connor Essegian and Max Klesmit added eight and seven points, respectively, for UW.
Tray Maddox Jr. scored 16 points and Lamar Norman Jr. added 12 for Western Michigan, which entered the night shooting just 32.9% from three-point range but hit 41.4% (12 of 29) against UW.
The Badgers pulled away from a 29-27 halftime lead by hitting 8 of 13 three-pointers (61.5%) and 18 of 29 shots overall (62.1%) after halftime.
They key? The Badgers pounded the ball inside to open the second half.
They attacked the paint to start the game and scored six of their first seven baskets at the rim to build a 14-3 lead.
UW curiously got away from throwing the ball inside to Crowl or Wahl, settled for out-of-rhythm three-pointers and saw Western Michigan pull within 29-27 at the break.
“That was the message before coach Gard even walked in the locker room,” Hepburn said. “We talked with ourselves and we knew we had to get into the paint more.
“We started this game very well. But we went away from touching the post and that killed us. We are a really hard team to beat when we’re touching the post because Steve is either going to find us or he will score himself.
“We’ve just got to play through the post more and keep our foot on the gas. We can’t let up.”
UW opened the second half by trying to post up Crowl on one side and then Wahl on the other. Both options were covered but Crowl eventually hit a three-pointer with the shot clock running down to start a 16-4 run that allowed UW to push the lead to 45-31.
Six of UW’s seven baskets in that run came in the paint.
“We started 5 of 7 in the paint and then we only went in there three more times the last 12 minutes of the first half,” Gard said. “We go from having a bigger lead to having a tighter game at halftime.
“In the second half we made a concerted effort consistently to play through the paint.”
The result was a double-digit victory on a night no starter played more than 31:24. Now UW can begin preparing for the resumption of Big Ten play.
“I’ve been coming here for 19 years,” said first-year Western Michigan head coach Dwayne Stephens, a long-time Michigan State assistant. “The Badgers have another team that is going to be able to compete at a high level in the Big Ten.
“They don’t beat themselves. They play under control. They play the right way. Today was no different.”
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Steven Crowl’s 25-point effort leads Badgers over Western Michigan