This was supposed to be the calm between the storms, a home game against an overmatched opponent in the middle of a difficult stretch for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team.
Instead, Prairie View A&M was in the mood to rock the boat a little on Wednesday night at the Kohl Center.
The Badgers needed big nights from both of the members of the starting backcourt to pull away from the Panthers, a 29½-point underdog.
Junior point guard Bronson Koenig scored 16 points, junior guard Zak Showalter added a career-high 14 and UW used a big run in the second half to record an 85-67 victory.
The Badgers (4-2) had six players in double figures: Redshirt freshman forward Ethan Happ and freshman forward Charlie Thomas finished with 12 apiece, junior forward Vitto Brown added 11 and junior forward Nigel Hayes had 10.
UW, fresh off a trip to New York where it lost to Georgetown and beat VCU, will hit the road again on Sunday with a game at No. 7 Oklahoma. After that, the Badgers visit Syracuse for an ACC/Big Ten Challenge game on Dec. 2. Temple and Marquette visit the Kohl Center on back-to-back Saturdays in December.
The Panthers were supposed to be an appetizer before the Badgers stuffed themselves on Thanksgiving Day.
UW led only 42-36 at the half despite the fact Prairie View A&M had 14 turnovers and 14 fouls in the opening 20 minutes.
The Panthers (0-5) stayed close by going 7 of 9 from 3-point range before halftime. This from a team that was 14 of 62 (22.6 percent) from beyond the arc in its first four games.
The hot shooting from the perimeter didn’t continue in the second half. Prairie View A&M attempted only two 3-pointers after halftime.
“The second half, I don’t think they were looking (for the 3) as much,” UW coach Bo Ryan said. “They didn’t seem to. I think they were trying to get to the free throw line or trying to get us in foul trouble.”
It took midway through the second half until the Badgers pulled away from the Panthers, who got a game-high 21 points from sophomore guard Tevin Bellinger.
The Panthers, who had lost their first four games of the season by an average of 21.8 points, were within 44-42 with 16-plus minutes remaining in the game.
Koenig hit a 3-pointer and Happ followed with a three-point play to start a 17-4 run that gave the Badgers some breathing room.
Thomas gave the Badgers a big lift in the second half. All of his 12 points and six rebounds came after halftime, including a 3½-minute stretch in which he scored eight to extend UW’s lead to 63-48.
“I think I’m just starting to realize my role on the team,” said Thomas, who had nine points and five rebounds in UW’s 74-73 victory over VCU on Sunday. “Just being aggressive, going for rebounds, loose balls, just playing as hard as I can every possession. I think I’m just starting to realize where I’m starting to fit in.”
Hayes had a rough shooting night, going 3 of 11 from the field. He was 6 of 15 from 3-point range entering the game but missed all five of his attempts vs. the Panthers.
“We wanted him to shoot,” Prairie View A&M coach Byron Rimm II said. “This year it looks like he wants to be a 2 or a 3 … and we were trying to let him shoot the ball and stuff like that.”
Still, Hayes found other ways to contribute. He finished with a game-high seven assists and even ran the point against Prairie View A&M’s zone defense at times, which allowed Koenig and Showalter to get good looks from the corners.
“Once we freed up Bronson to get some looks, then he shot it much better,” Ryan said. “And Nigel helped do that. Nigel can pass. He can find people.”
Ryan said he liked how the Badgers attacked the Panthers’ zone in the second half.
“We moved some people around, and it got some good shots,” Ryan said. “If you’re hitting a couple 3s, then they can’t pack the middle, so we touched the middle, hit a couple jumpers in there. It’s a cat-and-mouse game all the time.”