Nigel Hayes, No. 14 Wisconsin roll Rutgers, 72-52, in Big Ten opener
(AP) Nigel Hayes scored 20 points, Zak Showalter added 18 and No. 14 Wisconsin used an active start on the defensive end to build an early lead and defeat Rutgers 72-52 on Tuesday night.
Hayes scored 12 points in the first half, when the Badgers (12-2) opened with a 16-4 run over the first 12 minutes to take control in both team’s Big Ten opener.
Wisconsin needed the cushion after the Scarlet Knights (11-3) rallied from a 20-point deficit with 14 minutes left.
Rutgers forced turnovers and went on a 3-point shooting spree, hitting five from behind the arc in a 5-minute stretch capped by Nigel Johnson’s 3 with 8:19 left to get within 53-44.
The Badgers clamped down defensively from there, holding Rutgers to two field goals over the next 5-plus minutes.
Mike Williams led Rutgers with 18 points. Ethan Happ finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds for Wisconsin.
The Badgers set the tone early with in-your-face defense, forcing numerous runouts on the break. They built a 15-point halftime lead, aided by an active Showalter.
He finished with three steals and made an impressive two-handed bounce pass between two defenders on the break to Happ for a layup to open the game.
Rutgers guard Corey Sanders came off the bench for the first time this season and did not enter the game until about halfway through the first half. Coach Steve Pikiell said after the game that Sanders had missed a practice.
Sanders left the court with 5:39 left in the game with an apparent right leg injury, needing the help of two trainers to go back to the locker room. He finished with four points on 1-of-11 shooting.
Rutgers: Sanders, who averaged a team-high 28.8 minutes, led the team on the season coming into Tuesday with 50 assists and 23 steals. Rutgers never caught up following its messy start without Sanders on the court. If nothing else, the game will serve as a reality check after an impressive 11-2 record in nonconference play in Pikiell’s first year.
Wisconsin: The more talented Badgers played the role of Big Ten favorites by taking control early with an 8-0 run. They hit a couple of sloppy patches in the first half with the ball, but rarely withered defensively and held the Scarlet Knights to 24 percent shooting (6 of 25) in the first half. It was just the confidence-building conference opener that Wisconsin needed before beginning a tough, two-game road stretch against ranked opponents Indiana and Purdue.
Rutgers: Plays its first Big Ten home game on New Year’s Day, hosting Penn State.
Wisconsin: Travels to No. 16 Indiana on Jan. 3 in an early matchup of conference contenders.