MADISON — As he broke down the long list of failures that contributed to his team’s ugly loss at Providence, Wisconsin coach Greg Gard extended an olive branch:
He said he wanted to see how his players would react in their next match.
The environment was undoubtedly more comfortable and the opponent less formidable, but the response UW provided in a 78-68 victory over Robert Morris on Friday at the Kohl Center was mixed.
Gard’s team played well in several areas – hitting the ball inside and getting to the free throw line in particular – but Robert Morris used a remarkable 30-point advantage at the three-point line to keep interesting things for most of the evening.
The Badgers allowed 58.5% shooting in the 13-point loss to Providence. They allowed 50% shooting in a 10-point loss to Tennessee.
Robert Morris, shooting 31.7% from three-point range and 36.7% overall in his first three games, made 7 of 15 three-pointers (46.7%) in the first half.
THE SCORE OF THE BOX: Wisconsin 78, Robert Morris 68
With UW missing all 6 three-point attempts in the half, this gave the Colonials a 21-0 advantage and allowed them to stay at 37-35.
“Defensively, we’re a work in progress,” Gard said. “Everyone can see that. I thought in the second half I found a group that played well together and protected each other.”
The group included Steven Crowl, Tyler Wahl, Chucky Hepburn, John Blackwell and Kamari McGee.
“In the first half, I thought we did a good job protecting the paint,” Wahl said, “(but) we didn’t go after the shooters as aggressively.
“In the second half we were able to block those shots better.”
Robert Morris finished 13 of 29 from three-point range (44.8%) and 24 of 52 overall (46.2%).
“I’d love to be at 45 percent, but that would give the country a huge lead,” Robert Morris coach Andrew Toole joked of his team’s three-point shooting. “I would look like a good coach if we did this all year.
“We talked a lot about shot selection, a lot of talk about trying to make sure we took good ones. I think we took some good ones early and then we took some tough ones late.
“Usually that’s how it goes.”
The Badgers (2-2) will face Virginia (4-0) at 5 p.m. Monday in the first round of the Fort Myers Tip-Off.
Gard’s team entered Friday night shooting just 30.4 percent from three-point range and finished just 3 of 13 against the Colonials.
Chucky Hepburn (10 points) scored UW’s first three-pointer with 12 minutes, 12 seconds left in the game. This happened after the Badgers missed their first 8 attempts.
Those numbers proved insignificant as UW dominated near the basket.
The Badgers held a 42-16 advantage in points in the paint and had 31 more free throw attempts than Robert Morris.
Gard wanted to see Steven Crowl and Tyler Wahl finish plays in the lane more consistently.
This duo attacked inside from the start, totaling 23 points in the first half and finishing with a total of 34 points.
Crowl, who shot just 44.4 percent in UW’s first three games, made 7 of 9 shots and finished with 16 points. Crowl, however, made just 2 of 6 free throws.
Wahl, who made just 3 of 9 shots in the loss to Providence, made 5 of 5 shots and finished with 18 points and five rebounds.
“I feel like I needed to be more like myself,” Wahl said. “That was my goal: to go out there and attack the rim. It showed the results.”
Blackwell continued to impress in just 18 minutes of work. He scored all 18 of his points in the second half and added two rebounds, two steals and an assist. He made 2 of 3 three-pointers, 4 of 5 shots overall and 8 of 10 free throws.
“You get more confident when your shot is falling or you’re playing defense or when you’re rebounding, just little things,” said Blackwell, whose confidence seems to increase significantly. “I just feel more comfortable on the floor.”
McGee played solid defense and added six points, a rebound and a steal in 17 minutes.
UW made just 11 of 16 free throws in the first half (68.8%) and finished 27 of 40 (67.5%).
“We knew we wanted to play through the paint and play at the rim and we did that,” Gard said.
The Colonials came in with four players averaging at least 11.7 points per game.
Five players made at least one three-point basket in the first half for the Colonials.
Jackson Last made 4 of 7 three-pointers for 16 points and TJ Wainwright made 3 of 4 three-pointers and finished with 15 for Robert Morris.
Robert Morris stayed close thanks to the huge advantage from the three-point line, but Blackwell scored five straight points to help UW take a 53-50 lead and Wahl followed by hitting 1 of 2 free throws and with a hard drive for a dunk and a 56-50 lead with 9:28 to play.
The Colonials got another three-pointer after a timeout, but Crowl scored inside, Hepburn scored on a drive and Blackwell hit a pair of three-pointers to help UW take a 66-56 lead with 6 :34 to play.
Despite a decisive deficit from the three-point line, UW finally had some breathing room.
“Credit to Robert Morris for making some shots,” Gard said. “Some of them were our mistakes. Some of them hit some tough shots.”
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