Wisconsin turned its NCAA tournament opener into a red-and-white party.
Ben Brust scored 17 points and the Badgers devastated American with a 22-5 run to close the first half in a 75-35 victory Thursday before a friendly crowd in Milwaukee, barely 90 minutes from their home in Madison.
No. 2 seed Wisconsin (27-7) recovered from a brief first-half rut and seven-point deficit to extinguish the dreams of the15th-seeded Eagles (20-13), champions of the Patriot League.
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 with 3:33 left in the first half to give Wisconsin a 23-20 lead.
The rout was on. The Badgers hit 57 percent of their shots in the second half.
John Schoof had 11 points for American.
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 17-10 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’s turn to provide the spark before a sea of Badgers fans.
After he hit two 3s during the run, Brust drove the lane and pumped his fist after getting a bucket and drawing a foul.
Traevon Jackson later added a 3. Josh 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 with 1:20 left, and Jackson raised his arms to implore the crowd to get loud.
It was basically over by then. 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.
Jackson finished with a game-high 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting, while Sam Dekker finished with 11.
For American, Wroblicky had 11 points, while Jesse Reed finished with nine on 2-of-9 shooting.
The Princeton-style offense that American ran to near perfection early in the first half crumbled against tighter Wisconsin defense. The frustration was evident when Wroblicky, trying to post up, slipped on the floor while scrambling for a loose ball and slammed a fist on the floor in frustration.
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.
A 1-of-10 spurt from the field by Wisconsin helped American take its seven-point lead midway through the first half.
Brust’s personal mini-run put the Badgers on top and extinguished any hopes for an upset.