ATLANTA — It once again was defense that kept the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team within striking range, this time en route to a tough win over Georgia Tech on Wednesday.
UW coach Greg Gard knew going into the game that it would be a challenge for the young Badgers squad, but he was impressed with the discipline his team showed defending the Yellow Jackets in their 70-66 win in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge at McCamish Pavilion.
Georgia Tech (5-2) came into the game averaging 75.8 points while shooting 49.2% overall and 41.5% from 3-point range. The Badgers (6-1) held the Yellow Jackets to 41.5% shooting from the floor and 37.5% beyond the arc as Georgia Tech posted its second-lowest point total of the season.
“I thought we did a really good job keeping everybody else in check besides [Michael] Devoe,” Johnny Davis said. “They like to back cut a lot. We took that away from them and forced them to shoot 3s and tough contested 2s and they hit him, but they're not gonna make them all night.”
UW limited Georgia Tech to only six layups on the night. The offensive scheme the Yellow Jackets run relies on cutting to the basket to get those easy shots. It’s a more guard-dominant offense to begin with, but it didn’t help that Georgia Tech’s forwards and centers were in early foul trouble.
Yellow Jackets center Rodney Howard finished with four fouls, while forwards Jordan Usher and Khalid Moore tallied four apiece.
Despite Georgia Tech’s limited big man options, Davis said UW’s centers, Steven Crowl and Chris Vogt, were huge players in defending against the Yellow Jackets.
“I would say it's the fives who help out a lot,” Davis said about the Badgers’ centers. “Because when they're coming off that loop, the fives gotta back up so they don't throw it over the top and get the lob for a layup. I thought that they did a really good job defensively tonight.”
Georgia Tech got a huge offensive boost in the first half off second chance points. The Yellow Jackets secured offensive rebounds in two consecutive possessions and Devoe capitalized, hitting back-to-back 3-pointers to take the lead with 10:05 left in the first half.
Georgia Tech finished the half with five offensive rebounds, limited in large part by Vogt.
“Chris Vogt saved us in the first half,” Gard said. “We couldn't get a rebound to save our lives. We just scattered, we broke out too soon, we didn't stay until we had the ball. I thought Chris came in and really did a good job of establishing himself on the glass defensively.”
Devoe, the only Yellow Jackets player to score in double digits, was the one Georgia Tech player able to find a weakness in the Badgers defense. The 6-foot-5 senior finished with a game-high 33 points on 55% shooting from the floor and 50% from beyond the arc.
Davis was tasked with defending Devoe for a majority of the game — Brad Davison, Tyler Wahl and Jahcobi Neath took over when Davis wasn’t in — and the 6-5 sophomore said he needs to do a better job guarding players as good as Devoe.
Devoe was limited to 5-for-10 shooting and 0-for-3 from 3-point range in the second half after going 6-for-10 and 5-for-7 in the first. Gard said Devoe is going to find a way to score no matter how tough defenses guard him.
“We wanted to try to handle that ball screen with two guys and make him make tough shots,” Davison said. “He made a lot of tough shots. The things that got us in trouble … he had a couple easy looks on offensive rebound kick-outs. Then for any good scorer and a good shooter, once you see a shot go down, then the hoop gets a little bigger.”