Wisconsin 85, South Dakota 59: Last word

MADISON — Wisconsin got a big night from Tyler Wahl as the Badgers opened their 125th season Monday night with an 85-59 win at home against South Dakota.

Player of the Game: Tyler Wahl

Wahl has a chance for a special season and the senior got it off to a really good start. He was the best player on the court for the Badgers and stuffed the stat sheet, finishing with 19 points and 10 rebounds to get his fifth double-double of his career. A bunch of the scoring came from the free throw line where he went 9-for-10. But he was also a facilitator, dishing out four of Wisconsin’s 14 assists on the night. Wahl did the dirty work on defense as usual, coming up with a couple steals and a block.

The good: Chucky Hepburn

The sophomore is going to be asked to a lot more scoring this year with Brad Davison and Johnny Davis no longer around. Things got off to a bit of a rocky start for him on that end, as he missed four of his first five shots and had a pair of turnovers. But, after coach Greg Gard put him on the bench for a stretch, Hepburn settled in. He hit a pair of 3-pointers, including one at the halftime buzzer, and ended up with 14 points on 5-for-10 shooting. He also had three assists and was his normal pesky self on the defensive end.

The not so good: Slowing Kruz Perrott-Hunt

Wisconsin struggled mightily to deal with Kruz Perrott-Hunt, especially in the first half. The New Zealand native routinely got to his spots in the midrange to total 17 points before the break on 7-for-12 shooting. Wisconsin changed some things up in the second half in the way it played Perrott-Hunt and the ball screens South Dakota was setting. Though he did find teammates for some open looks, his scoring dried up real quick and he had just four points on 2-for-6 shooting.

“He was getting to his right hand a lot and we were letting him get to his right hand,” Hepburn said. “He was hitting tough shots, but he got going because we were letting him go to his dominant hand. So, in the second half, we just changed the emphasis, made him go left and he couldn’t do anything.”

Stat of the Game: 46.2%

That is what Wisconsin shot from beyond the arc in the game. It included going a scorching hot 9-for-15 in the first half. Seven different players hit at least one 3-pointer and the 12 the team hit on the night matched a season-high from last season.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, South Dakota was just 2-for-15 from deep. That tied for its fewest makes since Dec. 2019.

“I thought we did a really good job of taking away the threes, specifically early,” Gard said. “And that was a whole game plan of not even letting him get threes off, to try to minimize the attempts, knowing that they shot it pretty well and shot a lot of them.”

What They Said

South Dakota coach Eric Peterson believes the Badgers are better than what they were predicted to finish in the Big Ten, praising the scoring ability of Wahl and Hepburn.

“If they can develop one other scorer on their team that’s consistent, they’re not the 10th-best team in the Big Ten. I can guarantee you that.”

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In Case You Missed It

— Guard Max Klesmit got his first real action with the Badgers on Monday as part of the starting five. The Winthrop transfer showed off plenty of what Wisconsin liked about him when they brought him in via the transfer portal. He can be a solid offensive player (2-3 on 3Ps) and can also mix it up physically on the defensive end. Earlier this fall coach Greg Gard said Klesmit is like a lot of players the Badgers have had over the years that do all the little things and are keys to their success. That definitely showed up on Monday.

— Center Steven Crowl got the season started with a 3-pointer on Wisconsin’s first possession. Playing 25 minutes, the junior had 12 points, three rebounds and two blocks.

— Freshman Connor Essegian made his Wisconsin debut in the first half. He promptly knocked down the first 3-pointer he shot. The Indiana native finished with six points, one rebound and one very pretty back door assist to Wahl for a powerful dunk.

“Offensively he doesn’t lack for confidence, so I think he can give us a sparks and in different ways,” Gard said. “He has more to his game than just being a shooter. And as I’ve been around him for the last four or five, or six months, he showed me more than what I thought when we recruited him.”

— Wisconsin went deep into its bench, just as Gard felt they would. He has routinely played seven, eight or even nine guys during his time as coach, but this group could see 10 or 11 on any given night. In addition to the starting five of Crowl, Wahl, Hepburn, Klesmit and Jordan Davis, Gard figures to use Carter Gilmore, Essegian, Jahcobi Neath, Kamari McGee and Markus Ilver on a regular basis depending on the matchup.

— Greg Gard was wearing a red blazer in honor of Bo Ryan, who wore a similar jacket at times during his tenure as coach. Gard is also back to wearing a suit this season after coaches around the country dressed more casually the past two seasons. Gard said it was in part due to the history of the coaching profession and him wanting to pay his respects to it.

What’s next?

Wisconsin (1-0) will face Stanford (1-0) at American Family Field on Friday night as part of the Brew City Battle