Solving Wisconsin’s signature stifling defense will present a challenge for Grambling State when the Tigers travel to face the 17th-ranked Badgers in a non-conference game Friday night in Madison, Wis.
Wisconsin (9-2) has been idle since a 78-56 home victory over Lehigh on Dec. 15. Grambling State (6-5) has dropped two straight, including a 75-56 loss at Liberty on Monday.
The Badgers erased a 43-38 second-half deficit against Lehigh with an 11-0 run and then pulled away for their fourth consecutive victory. The outcome also ended Wisconsin’s run of seven straight games decided by five points or less.
“I feel like in that first half, we were really just beating ourselves,” Wisconsin’s Tyler Wahl said. “We were getting easy looks, missing those. And then just mental lapses on the defensive end. Halftime speech was just, we’ve got to be ourselves, we’ve got to go out there, move the ball, play how we know how to play and trust each other.”
Wisconsin allows an average of 60.8 points per game, third best in the Big Ten and 28th nationally. The Badgers are 69-8 under coach Greg Gard when holding opponents to 60 points or less, including 6-0 this season.
The Badgers have held all 11 foes this season under their scoring average. Wisconsin’s two losses were by a combined four points — 69-68 in overtime to then-No. 3 Kansas in the Battle 4 Atlantis and 78-75 at home vs. Wake Forest.
“There’s a lot of things we can better at, there’s a lot of things we’ve done well,” Gard said. “But they know me well enough that I’m not going to be ever satisfied. It’s kind of a trait that I think coaches have to have, that you keep pushing.”
Wahl leads Wisconsin’s balanced attack with averages of 14.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Chucky Hepburn adds 12 points and Steven Crowl 10.3 points and 6.5 rebounds. Freshman guard Connor Essegian (10.6 ppg) has scored in double figures off the bench in seven of the last eight games.
Grambling State averages 64.6 points per game while allowing 64.5. The Tigers have two victories this season over Power 5 opponents for the first time in program history, as they topped Colorado 83-74 at home and Vanderbilt 64-62 on the road.
The Tigers lost at then-No. 24 Virginia Tech 74-48 on Saturday. Grambling State led by 10 midway through the first half but wound up shooting just 36.5 percent from the floor.
Against Liberty, the Tigers trailed by just one at the half but were outscored 42-24 after the break, making just nine second-half field goals.
“We had a lot of respect coming into the game and even more so after the game for a really good, scrappy, tough Grambling team,” Liberty coach Ritchie McKay said. “Coach Donte (Jackson) has done a tremendous job with that group. They have a belief, and they have some parts that can really make it hard on your team.”
Carte’are Gordon averages 13.2 points and 7.3 boards to lead the Tigers. Cameron Christon adds 11.6 points and Shawndarius Cowart 10.4.
Wisconsin is 3-0 all-time vs. Grambling State, winning by an average of 28 points per contest.
–Field Level Media