By the time it was over, N.C. State had caught Team Leuer/Taylor, but it just barely. Wisconsin ran away with a 87-48 victory, In doing so, helping the Big Ten win the ACC-Big Ten Challenge for the second consecutive year.
Wisconsin under Bo Ryan is a team that relies heavily on the experience and leadership of its upperclassmen. The difference between that and the growing pains associated with attacking the other way – with talented but green freshmen – was clear.
After struggling as a team to shoot the ball well in recent games, Leuer, a senior, and Taylor, a junior, had standout games for UW. Leuer (22 points, 7-of-11 from the field, 7-of-8 free throws) and Taylor (21 points, 8-of-12 from the field) helped UW shoot 50 percent for the game.
Without injured senior Tracy Smith, who averaged 16.5 points per game last year, seven freshmen or sophomores played at least 13 minutes for the Wolfpack.
Returning home after its holiday tournament in Florida, UW (5-2) was cool, confident and shot the ball well. The Wolfpack, on the other hand, seemed rushed at times and too often tried to do too much.
"When you get a team that can execute and read as well as [Wisconsin], they're just tough to beat," N.C. State head coach Sidney Lowe said. "And certainly for a young team, I think it'd be a nightmare."
Offensively, N.C. State (4-2) was sloppy, throwing the ball all over the court. That was particularly true in the first half, when for stretches it looked like some of the Wolfpack thought they were doing tryouts for the Harlem Globetrotters. N.C. State had 11 turnovers for the first half, including a combined five from freshmen C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown, and finished with 13 for the game.
"I don't think we handled it well at all," Lowe said of playing a veteran Wisconsin team in a tough environment. "A little tentative, some bad decisions. A couple times, just not ready to make the pass that was there on time."
Meanwhile, UW was its usual judicious self, turning the ball over just six times and assisting on 17 baskets.
The Wolfpack showed their youth on the defensive end of the court, too. On several occasions, N.C. State bailed Wisconsin out of trouble with the shot clock winding down. Two N.C. State players fouled out and third finished with four fouls.
When upperclassmen take reins of a team, it frees up younger players to pick their spots to contribute.
Sophomores Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz did that Wednesday. Berggren (12 points, 3-of-3 for three) and Bruesewitz (nine points, 3-of-3 for three) showed their touch from long range. Evans, meanwhile, caused problems for the Wolfpack in the paint, getting to the line for six free throw attempts, making five. Evans and Berggren combined to outscore N.C. State's entire bench, 21-19.
"A lot of times role players get wide open looks as a result of people paying attention to other players," Ryan said. "So those guys have to be in a position to score at times, like Bruesewitz did tonight. Ryan Evans got to the free throw line. Those are things that can help you."