Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan didn’t reveal any state secrets over the summer when he told Sports Illustrated what his team had to do to be successful this season.
"Play defense, take care of the ball and get good shots," Ryan said. "Those three things are going to help any team."
Indeed, No. 20 Wisconsin excelled in each of those categories in Friday night’s season-opening 86-75 win over St. John’s at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D. The Johnnies, on the other hand, struggled at those three aspects of the game, especially in the first half when Wisconsin nearly ran them out of the building and back to Queens.
Wisconsin’s lethal 3-point shooting combined with the Johnnies’ carelessness with the basketball saw them down 35-23 at halftime and as many as 18 points at one point during the first 20 minutes of the game.
St. John’s committed 10 turnovers in the first half, which led to 12 Wisconsin points. The Red Storm only committed two turnovers in the second half, but the damage had already been done in the first 20 minutes and head coach Steve Lavin recognized that after the game.
"I’d say second half was a solid B. The first half was a D-minus. So I guess we come out with a C or C-minus," he said to the NY Daily News, "but we were here to get the ‘W’ – the most important letter – and we didn’t get that."
Three was the most important number for Wisconsin throughout this game. The Badgers shot 47.8% (11-of-23) from beyond the arc and St. John’s could never really make the necessary defensive rotations on time to disrupt that flow. It was the type of offense from Wisconsin that has made it so consistent under Ryan's tenure. The offense wasn't flashy, but extremely efficient.
John Gasser was especially efficient for Wisconsin. He finished with a team-high 19 points and was 3-of-5 from beyond the arc.
His 3-pointer with 5:45 left in the first half gave Wisconsin a 31-13. It was that 18-point deficit St. John’s could never quite overcome despite getting as close as 58-54 with 8:29 left in the game.
St. John’s, a team that struggled badly with the three-point shot, struggled badly again from beyond the arc. It shot an atrocious 15.4% (2-of-13) for the game. D`Angelo Harrison was 1-of-7 from 3, but did manage to finish with a game-high 27 points.
Shot selection-wise, when St. John’s actually launched those 3-pointers during a possession was as frustrating as the actual misses. For example, Max Hooper’s one and only 3-point attempt in this game came with seven minutes left in the first half and St. John’s down 25-13.
Jamal Branch had just stolen the ball seconds earlier from Nigel Hayes and found Hooper on the right side. Hooper immediately launched a quick 3 with 30 seconds left on the shot clock and no Johnnies underneath the basket. That’s the type of shot selection that plagued St. John’s much of last season.
Two positives St. John’s can take away from this game is that it actually outscored Wisconsin 52-51 in the second half and recovered on the boards and in the paint during that span.
The squads finished with 34 rebounds each. The Red Storm outscored Wisconsin 44-24 in the paint.
More from Rumble In The Garden:
- St. John's vs Wisconsin final score: Red Storm drop season opener, 86-75, in South Dakota
- Player preview: D`Angelo Harrison's redemption song
- Player preview: JaKarr Sampson's only pressure is his own
- Player preview: what does Orlando Sanchez bring to the Red Storm?
- Player preview: the game changer Chris Obekpa still has growth left in his game