Steven Crowl has big night as Wisconsin Badgers enjoy rare breather against Western Michigan

Badgers forward Steven Crowl goes to work against Western Michigan center Titus Wright (22) and forward Markeese Hastings during the first half Friday night at the Kohl Center.

MADISON – Wisconsin coach Greg Gard got a rare breather Friday night at the Kohl Center.

UW got off to a strong start, sputtered late in the first half but then took control early in the second half and closed nonconference play with a 76-66 victory over Western Michigan.

Consider the 10-point victory a belated Christmas present for a coach whose team had played in seven consecutive games decided by five points or fewer until a 22-point victory over Lehigh on Dec. 15.

The victory Friday allowed the 15th-ranked Badgers (10-2, 2-0 Big Ten) to extend their winning streak to five games and match their record through 12 games last season.

UW resumes Big Ten play at 8 p.m. Tuesday against visiting Minnesota (6-6, 0-2).

The Gophers last played on Dec. 22. Their nonconference game against Alcorn State, set for Thursday, was cancelled.

Minnesota opened Big Ten play with an 89-70 loss at Purdue and suffered a 90-75 home loss to Michigan.

Western Michigan, which stayed close by hitting 12 of 29 three-pointers, saw its record fall to 4-9.

Steven Crowl, averaging 12.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.8 assists in the previous five games, decimated Western Michigan.

The junior scored 10 points in the first 4 minutes 26 seconds of the second half to help UW turn a two-point lead into a 14-point advantage. He finished with a college-high 25 points, eight rebounds and two assists. Crowl hit 3 of 5 three-pointers and 9 of 13 shots overall.

Chucky Hepburn added 11 points, five rebounds and five assists. Tyler Wahl added 10 points and five rebounds. Jordan Davis added nine points, two rebounds and two assists. Connor Essegian and Max Klesmit added eight and seven points, respectively, for UW.

The Badgers pulled away from a 29-27 halftime lead by hitting 8 of 13 three-pointers and 18 of 29 shots overall after halftime.

Trey Maddox scored 16 points and Lamar Norman Jr. added 12 for Western Michigan, which entered the night shooting just 32.9% from three-point range but hit 41.4% against UW.

UW was sharp on both ends of the floor early despite the long layoff and hit 2 of 3 three-pointers and 5 of 9 shots overall in building a 14-3 lead 4:33 into the game.

The rest of the half wasn’t nearly as aesthetically pleasing for the home team.

UW hit 2 of 11 three-pointers and 5 of 16 shots overall the remainder of the half.

Meanwhile, a Western Michigan hit 7 of its first 16 three-point attempts to pull within 22-19 with 6:28 left in the half.

UW wasn’t able to pull away and when Maddox hit a jumper with 2:14 left the Badgers’ lead was down to 29-27.

Neither team scored the rest of the half but the Badgers, clearly determined to attack the lane, opened the second half by hitting their first seven field-goal attempts. Six of the baskets came in the lane.

Crowl scored 10 points during the 16-4 run to help UW push the lead to 45-31 with 15:34 remaining. When Davis hit a three-pointer, his second in six tries, UW’s lead was 51-36 with 12:28 remaining.

To that point in the half, UW was 3 of 4 from three-point range and 9 of 12 overall.

Gard was able to clear the bench early and the Badgers can now look ahead to resuming Big Ten play.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Steven Crowl’s 25-point effort leads Badgers over Western Michigan