MILWAUKEE — A sea of fans wearing Wisconsin red roared after every stop and every score, growing more exuberant as the Badgers’ NCAA opener became a historic rout.
Playing the first two tournament games close to home was a goal all year, and Wisconsin players fed off the energy to extinguish any upset hopes of 15th-seeded American.
Ben Brust scored 17 points and the No. 2 seed devastated the Eagles with a 22-5 run to close the first half in a 75-35 victory Thursday in Milwaukee, barely 90 minutes from their campus in Madison.
No. 2 seed Wisconsin (27-7) recovered from a brief first-half rut as the Eagles (20-13), champions of the Patriot League, built a seven-point lead with their Princeton-style offense.
“It was good to get the building loud,” Brust said. “I said, ‘Hey, they’re up. We better wake up.’”
Trailing 17-10 about midway through the first half, the Badgers took away the backdoor cuts, forced turnovers and otherwise flustered American into 4-of-26 shooting over the final 29 minutes. One field-goal drought lasted nearly 14 minutes.
“That’s pretty crazy,” guard Josh Gasser said. “That must mean you did something well.”
The Eagles don’t encounter the type of execution and athleticism displayed by Wisconsin in the Patriot League.
“They’re a No. 2 seed for a reason,” coach Mike Brennan said.
After Wisconsin was ousted in the first round last year as a fifth seed, Brust made sure his senior season didn’t end the same way. He attacked the glass for buckets on back-to-back possessions, ending with a 3-point play to give Wisconsin a 23-20 lead.
The rout was on. The Badgers hit 57 percent of their shots in the second half on the way to their largest margin of victory in the school’s 44 NCAA postseason games.
John Schoof and Tony Wroblicky each had 11 points for American.
“We were excited. We were playing well. We were making them take tough shots,” said Wroblicky. “We were scoring, then we kind of hit a rut.”
Schoof hit two early 3s and Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year Tony Wroblicky proved to be handful on the offensive end to help the Eagles build a surprising lead.
But this year, offense isn’t as much of a problem for the Badgers, even with leading scorer Frank Kaminsky on the bench with foul trouble at the end of the first half.
Anyone on the floor can score. On Thursday, it was Brust.
After hitting two 3s earlier in the half, Brust drove the lane and pumped his fist after getting a bucket and drawing a foul.
Traevon Jackson later added a 3. Gasser posted up and got fouled, walking away with an angry look before returning to the line to hit two foul shots.
By then it was 28-22 Wisconsin, and Jackson raised his arms to implore the crowd to get loud.
It was basically over. American opened the second half shooting 1 of 11, and coach Bo Ryan started going to his backups with 5 minutes left and the Badgers up 38.
The reserves didn’t waste what might be their only chance in the tourney floor time.
“Right away, when a couple guys took shots, they knew right were the camera was,” Ryan joked.
Jackson finished with a game-high 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting, while Sam Dekker finished with 11.
Florida Gulf Coast’s NCAA tournament run last year as a No. 15 seed has given all underdogs hope. And for a while in the first half, American was on a similar roll.
But Ryan was confident his team could handle the Princeton offense, a scheme the Badgers had faced successfully when playing Northwestern in recent years under Bill Carmody. Ryan said he was even awoken by a few nightmares last night of his team getting beat on backdoor cuts.
They figured it out and earned another game in friendly surroundings.
“We couldn’t score,” Brennan said. “They stopped us stone cold.”