While consistent offense continues to be a problem for Wisconsin in the absence of standout forward Jon Leuer, the 18th-ranked Badgers are using a familiar formula to stay afloat in the Big Ten.
Wisconsin hopes its stingy defense and drastic home-court advantage work again Sunday against lowly Penn State, which remains winless in Big Ten play and has lost 11 straight meetings with the Badgers.
In three games since Leuer went out with a broken bone in his wrist, the Badgers (15-4, 5-2) have shot 37.5 percent from the field and averaged 55.0 points, feeling the effects of the injury to their most reliable post presence. The 6-foot-10 junior had been averaging 15.4 points and 6.2 rebounds while shooting 52.8 percent.
Without Leuer, Wisconsin has relied on outside shots, and it was a season-worst 4 of 24 from 3-point range against Michigan on Wednesday. But the Badgers still earned a 54-48 win to improve to 11-0 at home and 2-1 without Leuer.
“Defensively you just have to keep going toe to toe and give yourself a chance. Just hang in there. That’s all we kept talking about,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said.
With guards Jordan Taylor and Jason Bohannon combining to go 1 of 14 from the field and 0 of 6 from beyond the arc, leading scorer Trevon Hughes sparked the Badgers with 20 points.
Wisconsin also got some unexpected contributions from sophomore reserve Rob Wilson, who said he “broke out of the shell” with a career-high 13 points, including nine during a 13-4 second-half run that erased a nine-point Michigan lead.
“We see glimpses of him in practice,” Hughes said. “We know he’s a great player and sometimes when he comes over to the main squad he doesn’t bring it. It was about time for him to come out and play with us (Wednesday). We needed it and he brought it out.”
Defense remains the bread and butter for the Badgers, who easily lead the Big Ten in overall scoring defense (56.2 points per game). They are allowing an average of 51.5 points at the Kohl Center, where they have gone 131-10 since Ryan took over in 2001.
A victory Sunday would be Ryan’s 100th in Big Ten play as Badgers’ coach.
Penn State (8-10, 0-6) has not won in Madison since a 78-67 victory on Jan. 26, 1995, going 0-9 since the Kohl Center opened. The Nittany Lions have not beaten Wisconsin anywhere since a 58-57 home win on Feb. 19, 2003, and the Badgers already won 63-46 at Penn State on Jan. 3.
After winning the NIT last season, the Nittany Lions have fallen upon hard times, and they enter a treacherous stretch of their Big Ten schedule still without a victory in the league. Including Sunday’s game, three of their next four are on the road against ranked opponents.
Penn State may have squandered a good chance in a 67-61 home loss to Indiana on Thursday.
“It’s hard, it’s hard now,” Lions coach Ed DeChellis said when asked if the winless record was becoming a burden. “This is one we thought we could win. … I don’t have an answer for you, all I know is we have another one Sunday at Wisconsin.”
Junior guard Talor Battle has been doing his best to try to carry Penn State, totaling 53 points in his last two games. He played through an ankle injury Thursday.