STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP)—If No. 17 Wisconsin keeps playing the kind of stifling defense it has so far this season, it may not matter who leads the Badgers in scoring every game.
On Tuesday night, it was Michael Flowers with a game-high 23 points as Wisconsin cruised to its eighth straight victory, an 80-55 win over snake-bitten Penn State.
Unlike last season, when All-American Alando Tucker led the Badgers in almost every offensive category, this team doesn’t have a marquee player. Four different players have led Wisconsin in scoring in each of the last four wins.
“A lot of it is we just make the extra pass,” said center Brian Butch, who had nine points and 12 rebounds. “We have a lot of guys on our team that can make plays and just be productive.”
Playing with trademark toughness and contesting every shot, Wisconsin ran out to a 20-4 lead. The Nittany Lions missed their first seven shots and never got closer than 11 points the rest of the way.
An early turnover by Penn State’s Stanley Pringle epitomized the Nittany Lions’ frustrating first half. Flowers snatched the ball out of Pringle’s hands in the backcourt following a pass and went the length of the court for an uncontested layup to put the Badgers up 18-2 with 11:46 left in the first half.
“Sometimes you grind gears early and you have to get it an another stage in the game, so it was a great way to start,” Badgers coach Bo Ryan said.
Flowers was 9-of-12 from the field, including 5-of-6 from 3-point range.
Marcus Landry added 16 points for Wisconsin (14-2, 4-0 Big Ten), which won its seventh straight against Penn State (10-6, 2-2).
The Nittany Lions played most of the game without leading scorer Geary Claxton. The senior forward limped off the court with about 13 minutes left in the first half after hurting his left knee while going for a rebound.
Team doctor Wayne Sebastianelli said after the game that Claxton hurt his anterior cruciate ligament and is out for the season.
“It’s devastating for Geary. I went into halftime, and told him I loved him and hugged him,” Penn State coach Ed DeChellis said after the game.
Entering Tuesday, Claxton was averaging 18.7 points, second only to Indiana’s Eric Gordon (23.0) in the conference.
Jamelle Cornley led Penn State with 13 points, 10 after halftime.
But it was the first half that did in Penn State.
The Nittany Lions couldn’t hit outside shots or drive to the basket. When they did get into the lane, they were met by a wall of red-clad defenders.
In contrast, Wisconsin was crisp on offense, shooting 60 percent for the game and finding easy openings all over the court. With Claxton, the Nittany Lions’ best defender, in the locker room, DeChellis had few answers.
“They were very patient, they knew what we wanted to do, and they had players that stepped up like Flowers,” Cornley said.
A defensive standout, Flowers was a star on the offensive end, too. His outside shooting complemented the inside presence of the bullish Landry and Butch.
But teammate Greg Stiemsma wasn’t very aware of Flowers’ contributions.
“I don’t know what Mike was, but he seemed like he stepped up and picked up some of the scoring or whatever,” said Stiemsma, one of four Wisconsin players in double figures with 10 points.
Flowers opened the scoring for Wisconsin with a 3-pointer, and Butch followed with a layup against a Penn State zone. Joe Krabbenhoft added another 3, and Landry hit a tough shot in the post to give the Badgers a 10-2 lead with about 14:30 left in the first half.
Penn State shot 37 percent from the field, and was outrebounded 41-22.
The Nittany Lions, who seem to be perennially rebuilding, face a much tougher road now without go-to player Claxton.
“The kids are really down and that’s natural,” DeChellis said. “Tomorrow when they wake up, they’ve got to go to class and the world’s going to continue to go.”