MADISON, Wis. (AP)—Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor were too much for Mercer.
Taylor scored 22 points and Tucker added 21 as No. 9 Wisconsin beat the Bears 72-48 Sunday in the season opener for both teams.
Mercer coach Mark Slonaker said his team is used to playing before 1,200 people a game and lost to a Division II school during preseason play, so he knew it would be tough to go into the Kohl Center, where Wisconsin is 35-3 in non-conference games under Bo Ryan.
He joked his strategy was to have his defender whisper “North Dakota State” into Tucker’s ear in the hopes it would remind him of shooting 2-for-18 in a 62-55 loss in January to the Bison, which was just in its third year of Division I basketball.
Instead, Slonaker said his backcourt seemed intimidated by the crowd, Taylor shot the Bears out of the zone defense they tried to start the game in, and Tucker was 10-for-18.
“They were just too much for us really,” Slonaker said.
Mercer, which lost three starters off a team that went 9-19 last year, didn’t appear to have a chance against the Badgers, who return a nucleus that accounted for 90 percent of their points and rebounds last season.
Still, the Bears trailed 54-40 halfway through the second half, even though starters Montavious Waters and Brian Pfohl had both been on the bench with four fouls since just more than 5 minutes into the final period.
But the Bears failed to capitalize on the numerous opportunities Wisconsin gave them to make it a game. Mercer shot just 34 percent from the field, including 31 percent from the 3-point line, and turned the ball over 22 times.
The Badgers could have made it ugly if they could have only hit their free throws. Wisconsin was in the bonus for the final 6 minutes of the first half and the final 12 of the second. But the Badgers only shot 12-for-27 from the line.
Ryan didn’t have any explanations for the struggles, pointing out “they didn’t move the line, and they haven’t moved the rim.” Tucker said part of it was likely mental.
“We came out flat,” Tucker said. “It’s one of those things where we know we can hit them. Once you start missing a couple you hear some of the crowd going, ‘Ah.’ You start feeling sorry for yourself. But we still won the game.”
Wisconsin didn’t let the Bears get any closer than 14 in the final 10 minutes, holding Mercer to two points over the final 6:32.
Hrvoje Pervan scored 10 points to lead Mercer, while Waters had nine despite playing less than 4 minutes of the second half.
Taylor and Tucker were the only Badgers in double figures, while Joe Krabbenhoft grabbed 10 rebounds, seven on the defensive end.
Krabbenhoft repeatedly called the Badgers a “work in progress.”
“We’re still in November here,” he said. “Come March, April down the line, things will start to click.”