Andy Van Vliet waited patiently for two years on the Wisconsin bench as older stars logged most of the minutes.
The 7-footer’s time has finally arrived for the Badgers.
Van Vliet scored 18 points, Ethan Happ had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and Wisconsin opened a season of transition with an 85-50 win Friday night over South Carolina State at Madison.
The jump-shooting Van Vliet was 4 of 5 from 3-point range and added eight rebounds. He’s one of four new starters surrounding one of the country’s top big men in Happ.
“After two years of (waiting) to finally be playing in the Kohl Center, it’s a blessing” Van Vliet said.
If he can keep up that kind of production, Wisconsin’s frontcourt will pose a big problem for opponents whose top priority will be to shut down Happ. He has the smarts and passing ability to find open teammates, so finding consistent shooters from the perimeter will be important in Madison.
“Ethan’s done a real good job of being able to get out of double-teams,” guard Brevin Pritzl said. “It makes our jobs easier and those double-teams less effective against him.”
The 6-foot-10 was 8 of 11 from the floor, but 4 of 9 from the foul line.
South Carolina State fell behind by as many as 17 points late in the first half but kept things respectable until midway through the second half, when Wisconsin went on a decisive 10-0 run. Van Vliet had two 3s and a steal that led to another bucket for a 68-47 lead with 7:17 left.
“It’s hard to compete with a 7-footer who can really shoot the ball from deep like that,” coach Murray Garvin said.
The Bulldogs tried to keep up by running the floor and taking quick, often tough shots from the perimeter. Donte Wright had 13 points, going 5 of 16 from the field and 2 of 10 from 3-point range.
Otherwise, South Carolina State rarely had an answer for Wisconsin’s size.
Pritzl added 17 points for the Badgers, who lost to Florida in the NCAA Tournament regional semifinals last year.
“I have a quiet locker room, and that’s a good sign for a program our size to have a quiet locker room after a loss to Wisconsin,” Garvin said.
Wisconsin coach Greg Gard will be figuring out the rotation early in the season with the Badgers incorporating so many new faces into bigger roles. Forward Aleem Ford, a 6-9 redshirt freshman, was the first big man off the bench, while true freshmen Kobe King and Brad Davison came into the game together about 5 minutes into the first quarter.
Davison, who plays with a hard-nosed style that reminds coaches of former Wisconsin guard Zak Showalter, had five points and two assists over 15 minutes. King, a highly-recruited wing player, had six points and three rebounds in 18 minutes.
MARQUETTE 80, MOUNT ST. MARY’S 59: Senior guard Andrew Rowsey scored a game-high 23 points and Marquette led by as many as 37 points in its season-opening victory over Mount St. Mary’s at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee.
Rowsey also had five assists and three steals as the Golden Eagles won their mainland game as part of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational.
Mount St. Mary’s senior guard Junior Robinson scored a team-high 20 points after averaging 32.5 points per game in the Mountaineers’ two exhibition contests.
Junior center Matt Heldt reached double digits for the second time in his career with 13 points. Haanif Cheatham also scored 13 points and Markus Howard had 11.
Marquette is 85-16 all-time in season openers and has won 17 of its last 18.