MADISON – Greg Gard’s basketball team continues to mature, game by game, regardless of the venue or the opponent.
Wisconsin isn’t a perfect team by any means. But the Badgers defend well for the most part, value the basketball and have the capacity to overcome scoring droughts with impressive scoring runs.
And they have Johnny Davis, who can score at will, and a roster laden with players who can contribute in myriad ways.
The 21st-ranked Badgers displayed their strengths Saturday by turning a tense battle after 20 minutes into a second-half blowout en route to an 89-76 victory over Marquette on Saturday at the Kohl Center.
“Nothing has surprised me about this,” Davis, one of four UW players with at least 15 points, said without hesitation. “Every time we step on the floor we expect to win.”
The Badgers (7-1) extended their winning streak to five games and can turn their attention to the Big Ten opener set for Wednesday against visiting Indiana (7-1, 1-0 Big Ten).
Shaka Smart’s Golden Eagles (7-2) have two more nonconference games – Wednesday at Kansas State and Saturday against UCLA – before opening Big East play Dec. 18 at Xavier.
BOX SCORE: Wisconsin 89, Marquette 76
Davis defeated Marquette’s defense by scoring from all over the court and finished with 25 points and five rebounds. He hit his lone three-point attempt and finished 9 of 14 overall and added 6 of 8 free throws.
“He is so dynamic,” senior guard Brad Davison said of Davis. “His ability to create space and get to his shot…he can score at all three levels. In my opinion, he is one of the best scorers in the country.”
Davison played only 18 minutes before fouling out in UW’s 67-65 overtime loss to Marquette last season. He missed all four of his field-goal attempts and finished with four points.
On Saturday, Davison scored 14 of his 20 points after halftime. Hit hit 4 of 8 three-pointers and 6 of 12 shots overall.
Freshman guard Chucky Hepburn was fabulous on both ends of the court and finished with 15 points, six assists, three steals and only two turnovers in 31-plus minutes.
“This year I’ve been struggling offensively to find my confidence. But today was a big game for me. I felt like I got my confidence back.
Sophomore forward Steven Crowl, who had a combined 17 points in the previous three games, had eight points and six rebounds in the opening half. He finished with 15 points and eight rebounds.
“We told him to stop playing soft,” Davis said. “Every day in practice (if) he’s not finishing like he should be we’re all getting on him.”
UW hit just 12 of 34 shots in the opening half (35.3%) but dismantled the Golden Eagles’ defense in the second half by working the ball inside-out. As a result, UW hit 19 of 27 shots (70.4%) and scored 55 points.
The Badgers led for 28 minutes 42 seconds built the lead to 23 points with 3:03 left and finished 10 of 24 from three-point range (41.7%) and 31 of 61 overall (50.8%).
“There wasn’t a lot of impressing on our side today,” Smart said after his team gave up a season-high point total. “In the second half we gave up 55 points, which is the opposite of the formula for winning.”
Redshirt freshman forward Justin Lewis (16.1 ppg, 8.0 rpg), whose tip-in off a missed free throw gave the Golden Eagles the overtime victory over UW last season, managed just five points and one rebound in the opening half. He finished with a team-high 14 points but had six of the Golden Eagles’ 13 turnovers and hit just 1 of 5 three-pointers.
Redshirt freshman forward Oso Ighodaro, who entered the day averaging 4.4 points per game, scored 11 points in the opening half to help the Golden Eagles stay within 34-31. He finished with 11.
Guard Darryl Morsell, named the Big Ten defensive player of the year last season at Maryland, contributed 11 points and seven rebounds.
UW shot poorly in the first half (12 of 34 shots, 35.3%), made just 2 of 9 layups and saw Marquette hold an 18-12 edge in points in the paint.
All those numbers suggested the Golden Eagles should have been ahead after 20 minutes.
That wasn’t the case.
UW trailed, 29-25, after Lewis hit 1 of 2 free throws with three minutes left in the half.
The Badgers, who too often rushed shots, responded with a 9-2 run to take a 34-31 halftime lead.
“I think Chucky set the tone defensively at the end of the first half,” Gard said. “We were not good in ball-screen situations and it started with not enough ball pressure. He changed that and we were able to go into half time with a little bit of a lead.”
UW used multiple scoring runs after halftime to build the lead to 86-63 on a three-pointer by Crowl with 3:03 left.
Davis had six points and assisted on Lorne Bowman’s three-pointer to help turn a 46-41 lead into a 59-44 lead with 10:22 left.
Then after Marquette pulled within 61-53, Davison buried a three-pointer from the corner with 8:15 left to spark an 11-3 run. He capped the run with another three-pointer and the lead was 72-56 with 6:27 left.
“He is smart,” Gard said. “He is tough. He is experienced. He does so many things.”
Smart sounded impressed.
“I think this team Wisconsin has right now,” he said, “has really, really well thought-out pieces that fit together.”
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin Badgers vs. Marquette college men’s basketball: Live updates