MADISON, Wis. (AP)Friday night was perhaps the most emotional home opener in the history of the Wisconsin men’s basketball program.
Kobe King scored a game-high 18 points, Nate Reuvers added 14 points, 14 rebounds and nine blocks, and the Badgers defeated Eastern Illinois 65-52.
But the night belonged to Wisconsin assistant coach Howard Moore.
Before the game, Wisconsin had a video tribute and a moment of silence for Moore and his family. The Moore family was involved in a fatal accident in May. Moore’s wife, Jen, and 9-year-old daughter, Jaidyn, were killed, as was the driver of the vehicle that collided with the Moore family’s SUV.
”The crowd did a great job of a very warm ovation at the right times,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. ”It’s great to see them. It’s obviously been a. … it’s uncharted water in terms of what this group and the Moore family have been through. … I thought tonight was a nice, well-needed recognition of the Moore family and it was good to see them.”
Moore suffered serious burns and his 13-year-old son, Jerell, escaped with minor injuries. Moore had plans on returning to coaching this season. But a month after the accident, Moore was back in the hospital after being found unconscious in his home. He is on medical leave.
Moore’s parents spoke to the crowd before the game, and Jerell was introduced as an honorary member of the Badgers’ starting lineup. Jerell wore No. 34, the jersey number his father donned for Wisconsin in the 1990s.
”We’re just trying to help make his life as normal as possible,” Gard said of Jerell. ”We can’t replace his mom, we can’t replace his sister, but we can try to do a lot of other things to help the kid out. I can’t imagine, at 13 years old, what that kid has gone through. It was actually Patrick Herb’s (Wisconsin athletics’ director of brand strategy) idea to make him the sixth starter. I thought that was awesome.”
The Badgers are wearing warm-up shirts this season honoring Moore. They read: Be Moore. Do Moore. 4 Moore.
On the court, Wisconsin forward Aleem Ford had 11 points before fouling out, as the Badgers (1-1) bounced back from their season-opening overtime loss to No. 20 Saint Mary’s on Tuesday.
Marvin Johnson led Eastern Illinois with 12 points, including two 3-pointers, and George Dixon added 11 points and eight rebounds for the Panthers.
The highlight of the night came when King used a jab step to blow by Eastern Illinois’ Dondre Duffus and dunked to give the Badgers an early 14-7 lead.
”Me and Coach Tucker (interim assistant Alando Tucker) were talking about. … because Coach Gard goes, `Two points is two points regardless,’ and Coach Tuck goes, `Nah, sometimes a dunk is like five points because you get the crowd into it, you’re feeling good.’ When I saw that little gap, I kind of took off. … it was pretty neat.”
The Panthers gave the Badgers all they could handle. Wisconsin led by only seven at halftime, and the Panthers pulled within three with less than nine minutes to play after a 3-pointer by Mack Smith before the Badgers pulled away.
”I thought we competed really hard,” Eastern Illinois coach Jay Spoonhour said. ”They’re – as they always are – they’re a very solid team and they don’t do anything to beat themselves, ever, and they never have. We’ve got lots of new faces that are playing a lot of minutes and we did some things tonight to ourselves. But I also felt the Badgers had a lot to do with it.”
DIFFERENCE AT THE CHARITY STRIPE
The Badgers dominated the Panthers inside and it showed at the free throw line. Wisconsin made 20 of 24 attempts at the stripe, while Eastern Illinois shot 3 of 8 from the line.
The Panthers continued their difficult opening week. Eastern Illinois fell 85-60 to No. 13 Texas Tech, last season’s national champion runner-up, on Tuesday night. The tough out-of-conference slate will prepare Eastern Illinois for their competition in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Wisconsin returns nearly 62% of its scoring from last season’s team that finished 23-11 overall and earned a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Badgers look as though they will rely heavily on their defense while figuring out how to replace the production of graduated big man Ethan Happ.
Eastern Illinois: Hosts Chicago State on Tuesday.
Wisconsin: Host McNeese State on Wednesday.
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