Pity the young North Carolina State men's basketball team. Armed with a bevy of athletic, talented freshmen, the Wolfpack have the ability to whip any team in the country.
But school them on the road like the University of Wisconsin did during an 87-48 drubbing at the Kohl Center Wednesday night and the Wolfpack went from a confident team to a group of youngsters looking like they were struggling through an organic chemistry class.
"They are running back screens and cross screens and the UCLA back screens and then they pop out," Wolfpack coach Sidney Lowe said of the Badgers after they won their third straight ACC/Big Ten Challenge game behind a stifling 23-0 mid-game run.
"The thing is, when you get a team that can execute and read as
well as these guys do, they are just tough to beat," Lowe added. "Especially for a young team, it can be a nightmare."
Senior forward Jon Leuer led the Badgers' best overall performance of the season with 22 points and 11 rebounds. It was his fourth career double-double. Junior guard Jordan Taylor added 21 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals for the Badgers (5-2), who evened their all-time Challenge record to 6-6 and helped the Big Ten Conference win the Challenge for the second straight year.
Also, sophomore forward Jared Berggren had a career-high 12 points for the Badgers, who celebrated their return home for the first time in five games by shooting 50 percent overall and 55 percent from 3-point range.
Defensively, the Badgers were just as dominant as they forced the Wolfpack to shoot a season-low 31.6 percent overall. Sophomore forward Scott Wood led the Wolfpack (4-2) with 13 points.
The Wolfpack's freshmen trio of Lorenzo Brown, C.J. Leslie and Ryan Harrow, who came into the game averaging a combined 33.4 points a game, were limited to 16 points. They also combined to make just 17.9 percent of their shots (5 of 28).
"We've seen them attack some teams and make some pretty good decisions. We tried to squeeze the court as we usually do when you're playing teams that are pretty good off the bounce. I thought we did a good job of that," UW coach Bo Ryan said. "That's what I liked that the most, how we cut down the driving lines and kept Wood pretty much in check."
The Badgers owned a 29-21 lead when they broke open the game with a 23-0 run over the final 6 minutes, 36 seconds of the first half and the first 3:36 of the second half. The Wolfpack missed 10 shots and turned the ball over seven times during the run that saw the Badgers own a 52-21 lead with 17:16 to go. They went on to lead by as many as 43 points.
"Coach said it from the start: If you turn the ball over against this team and give them offensive rebounds, you're going to get punished," Wood said. "And the whole week, we were going on the word ‘war,' because we knew it was going to be a war. And I feel like we got hit in the mouth a couple times and backed down."
Leuer liked how the Badgers played more aggressively, especially without the ball. That's a big reason why they tied their season high with 26 free throw attempts. They made 20.
"We were making hard cuts and they had to defend them," Leuer said. "A lot of times when you make hard cuts like that they are going to grab and hold and the officials were seeing that. That's how we were able to build up a lot of fouls against them. That, and getting the ball inside."
Leuer said the Badgers look forward to playing in the Challenge each year.
"So, to win it definitely feels good," he said. "It builds up our RPI, too, for the conference, so that's a positive. Overall, it's a good thing for the conference."