LAHAINA >> Wisconsin jumped out to a big early lead, only to see Tennessee put together two runs to take the lead.
The Badgers are a veteran team, though, and they managed to keep their calm during the Vols’ storm.
Bronson Koenig scored 21 points, Nigel Hayes had 17 points and 10 rebounds, and No. 16 Wisconsin opened the Maui Invitational with a 74-62 win over Tennessee on Monday.
“I like how hard they played,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “I didn’t think they flinched when Tennessee made a run, which we knew they would do. There’s a lot of things we would take from this. This is what makes this tournament is that you see good competition three days in a row, and you’ve got to continue to improve from game to game.”
Wisconsin (3-1) built its big early lead behind good shooting and rallied after Tennessee made two runs to take the lead early in the second half. Hayes hit a couple of big 3-pointers and the Badgers pulled away late to earn a spot in the second round on Tuesday.
Wisconsin, in its third Maui Invitational, shot 56 percent and used its size advantage inside to pull down 11 more rebounds. Ethan Happ added 16 points for the Badgers.
“It’s early in the year and it was a good test for us, and it’s just kind of showed us what we need to work on,” said Koenig, who made 9 of 15 shots. “We need to slow down not let them speed us up. And play at our pace and control the tempo more so.”
Tennessee (1-2) trailed by 17 midway through the first half before finding its footing in Maui. The Vols had a pair of 10-0 runs yet were unable to sustain their momentum after Wisconsin answered.
Shembari Phillips led Tennessee with 16 points, and Detrick Mostella and Robert Hubbs III had 12 each.
“I thought that, as you would expect, so many young guys coming out, we were a little bit jumpy at the start of the game,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “I thought they showed some terrific mental toughness fighting back into it and against an experienced team.”
Wisconsin fell into an 8-0 hole before pulling away from Chicago State in its last game, but it had no trouble with a slow start against Tennessee. The Badgers hit their first five shots to open the game with a 12-0 run and led by 17 at one point.
The young Vols began to take advantage of their athleticism after those early struggles, using a 10-0 run midway through to pull within 40-32 by halftime.
They kept it going to open the second half, scoring the first 10 points to take a 42-40 lead.
Tennessee used its pressure to create opportunities during both runs but didn’t have an answer when Wisconsin turned up its defensive pressure.
The Badgers took control after the Vols’ second run, pulling away as the mostly pro-Wisconsin crowd filled tiny Lahaina Civic Center with roars.
“We’ve got to learn how to finish, learn how to sustain a lead and we’ll be all right,” Phillips said. “This will help us in the long run.”
Tennessee showed some poise in rallying from a 17-point deficit and flashed its athleticism to keep up with the Badgers. There’s still some work to do defensively and with cohesiveness on the offensive end.
Wisconsin had some trouble with Tennessee’s depth and athletic young players but shot well and was solid defensively.
Tennessee freshman guard Jordan Bone has been nursing a sore foot and tried to give it a go against Wisconsin. It didn’t last long. Bone was limited to seven minutes, missing both his shots.
Wisconsin has been one of the nation’s best teams at protecting the ball and should be good again this season with such a veteran team.
But the Badgers had trouble with Tennessee’s quickness when the Vols turned up the defensive pressure, leading to 18 turnovers.
“It has to be reduced drastically. We know it,” Gard said. “We’ll continue to work on it. And they understand it.”
Tennessee will face the loser between Georgetown and No. 13 Oregon in the second round on Tuesday.
Wisconsin faces the Georgetown-Oregon winner in Tuesday’s second round.