The Tennessee Volunteers (8-4) entered its matchup with the Wisconsin Badgers (7-5) as a good defensive team looking to take advantage of a struggling Wisconsin offense.
But as it turned out, it would be the Vols who would struggle on offense in the first game without star player Lamonte Turner. The Vols shot 35% as a whole and committed 17 turnovers that helped contributed to the lopsided loss.
D’Mitrik Trice led the Badgers with 21 points on 6-of-14 shooting, which included a 4-of-8 line from 3. John Fulkerson and Jalen Johnson both led the Vols with nine points each, while Olivier Nkhamoua led the team with 10 rebounds. The Badgers shot 44% as a team for the entire game, which helped snap their five-game losing streak on the road.
The Badgers came out firing on offense, hitting three of their first four shots to build a 7-0 lead. Tennessee, on the other hand, went 0-for-3 to start the game, but a nice steal by Davonte Gaines and subsequent layup broke the run and gave the Vols their first points of the game.
Wisconsin made another basket and the score hung around 9-4 for a little while, but the Badgers would eventually go on a 8-0 run to build a 15-4 lead until Fulkerson ended the run with his second basket of the game. At the time, Fulkerson was 2-of-2 from the floor while the rest of the team was 1-of-8 with a little over 12:00 to go in the first half.
A 4:00 scoring drought and a 5-0 Tennessee run helped the Vols pull within six points of Wisconsin’s lead, but back-to-back threes from the Badgers immediately pushed the lead to 21-9 with 8:35 left in the first half.
Yves Pons hit back-to-back shots that included a three-pointer and Josiah James hit 1-of-2 free throws to make it a 21-15 game, but the rest of the team only managed two points over the next 2:45, as Wisconsin jumped out to a 27-17 lead over that span.
The Badgers would go on to outscore the Vols 17-9 over the final 5:00 of the first half and went in to halftime with a 38-24 lead. The 14-point deficit was the largest deficit of the season for the Vols and the largest first-half lead for the Badgers since March 2016 against Minnesota.
The disparity in both offenses was painfully clear. The Badgers were 13-of-26 from the floor, which included a 7-of-13 line from 3, while the Vols were just 9-of-24 from the field that included a 3-of-9 mark from 3. Both teams had issues with turnovers, but Tennessee’s (8) surpassed Wisconsin’s (7) at the halfway mark. Wisconsin managed to score 10 points off those turnovers, while the Vols had just five points off turnovers.
But Tennessee’s defense was playing pretty well. It was the offense that wasn’t holding up its end. If Rick Barnes could just get his group to make some shots, then a second-half comeback was certainly possible.
That certainly wasn’t the case for the first 3:00 of the second half. The Badgers opened up the last 20:00 of the game with a 7-0 run just like the beginning of the game. Trice was responsible for five of the seven points that helped build the 45-24 lead.
Tennessee turned the ball over six times and shot 0-of-4 from the field during the first 6:00 of the first half. They hadn’t made a single point since returning from the locker room, while Wisconsin led 47-24 thanks to a 9-0 run in the second half.
Things had to change. Quick. Or else this game was about to be over.
Gaines finally ended the drought with two free throws at the 13:34 mark in the second half, but the Badgers still owned a double-digit lead. Fulkerson hit the first field goal of the second half to cut the lead to 47-28, but Brevin Pritzl sunk one from the left elbow to put the Badgers back up, 49-28, with 12:10 left in the game.
Tennessee continued to have issues with turnovers. The Vols already had eight in the first half, but matched that total within the first 8:00 of the second half.
Wisconsin continued to pour it on, while the Vols continued to struggle, en route to a 57-35 deficit with 6:45 left in the game. Trice continued to dismantle Tennessee with this third trey of the game to push the lead to 60-35 and the Badgers were looking to close the game out with under 6:00 to go.
The Vols finally found some momentum on offense and were able to scrounge up an 8-3 run to pull within 60-43, but by then it was too late with just 3:46 remaining in the game.
Tennessee would go on to lose 68-48 and is now (8-4) on the season while the Badgers improve to (7-5). The Vols will begin SEC play when they host the LSU Tigers on Saturday, January 4. Tip-off is scheduled for 12PM EST.