Unselfish Nigel Hayes leads No. 17 Wisconsin past No. 22 Syracuse for easy win

(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
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Wisconsin looked like a veteran team with an efficient offense as they easily beat No. 22 Syracuse, 77-60, on Tuesday night at the Kohl Center.

The No. 17 Badgers showed tremendous patience moving the ball and they took a lot of good shots as they were able to pick apart Syracuse’s 2-3 zone by moving it from side-to-side.

This was the kind of Wisconsin that looked like it could hang with anyone in the country as they shot 50 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range.

And it’s all because senior forward Nigel Hayes didn’t hunt his own shot.

Hayes has been criticized the last two seasons for taking too many three-pointers and showing poor shot selection as he’s transitioned from role player to go-to guy. The last two seasons he’s shot 29 percent from three-point range but he’s still attempting over 3.8 per game.

But the version of Hayes we saw against Syracuse was a major reminder of why he’s considered one of the Big Ten’s best players. Playing at the elbows against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, Hayes showed his gifted passing ability while also taking smarter shots. Hayes finished with nine points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists — missing a triple-double only because he was 4-for-11 from the field.

Although he didn’t shoot a great percentage, Hayes was able to move the ball from side-to-side or get it down low to sophomore Ethan Happ as Syracuse’s defense had no response. Happ is Wisconsin’s most productive and efficient player on most nights and he finished with 24 points on 10-for-12 shooting with 13 rebounds.

And Hayes didn’t shoot a three-pointer for the second consecutive game.

After going 1-for-7 from three-point range in the Maui Invitational loss to North Carolina, clearly, Hayes received the message — if you can’t hit three-pointers on the soft rims of Maui, it might be time to re-evaluate your shot selection.

Hayes has taken better shots since returning to the mainland and if he continues to get Happ more touches while not hunting threes then it could be huge for Wisconsin’s offensive efficiency. This version of Wisconsin’s offense looked really balanced and strong.

Because the Badgers can also put Vitto Brown at the top of the key — or anywhere on the floor since he can pass and hit threes — their guards could attack from the wings against Syracuse’s zone with good side-to-side movement. This enabled senior Bronson Koenig to finish with 20 points on 6-for-9 three-point shooting as he had an outstanding game on the offensive end.

Syracuse was led by Andrew White’s 14 points while senior center DaJuan Coleman finished with 12 points. The Orange’s 2-3 zone still has a lot of room for improvement, and since it’s a bigger lineup with three forwards, they have trouble with some quicker lineups.

Offensively, the Orange also don’t have a true identity right now and some guys are trying to do too much on their own. Sophomore Tyler Lydon also seemed content to hang on the perimeter as a catch-and-shoot option as he finished with nine points on 4-for-9 shooting. Lydon was only 1-for-6 from three-point range.

The Orange had to battle foul trouble in the first half and struggled to catch up once they fell behind in the first half. Syracuse didn’t appear prepared for this kind of road test and they’ve now dropped two straight after falling to South Carolina in Brooklyn this weekend. Syracuse still has plenty of talent but they have to fix some things quickly before ACC play.