MADISON, Wis. (AP)Steven Crowl scored 20 of his career-high 25 points after halftime as No. 15 Wisconsin ended a layoff of over two weeks and won its fifth straight by beating Western Michigan 76-66 on Friday night.

”When Steve’s playing like that, we’re a very hard team to beat,” said Wisconsin point guard Chucky Hepburn, who assisted on two Crowl second-half dunks.

Wisconsin (10-2) hadn’t played since a 78-56 victory over Lehigh on Dec. 15. A winter storm led to the cancellation of a scheduled Dec. 23 home game with Grambling State.

One night after Central Michigan surprised Michigan 63-61, Wisconsin avoided another potential Mid-American Conference vs. Big Ten upset by pulling away early in the second half.

”The Badgers have another team that’s going to be able to compete at a high level in the Big Ten,” said Western Michigan first-year coach Dwayne Stephens, who faced off with Wisconsin numerous times as an assistant on Tom Izzo’s Michigan State staff. ”They don’t beat themselves. They play under control. They play the right way. Today was no different.”

Wisconsin led 29-27 at halftime and outscored Western Michigan 16-4 in the first 41/2 minutes of the second half. Wisconsin made its first seven shots from the floor during the second half.

”In the second half, we put more of an emphasis on getting the ball down low, whether it was me, Tyler (Wahl) or Chucky got down there a couple of times,” Crowl said. ”It’s not necessarily just the big guys. But once we do get down there, it’s about finishing in the paint, too.”

Crowl scored 13 points during the first 5 1/2 minutes of the second half and shot 5 of 5 during that stretch, including two 3-point baskets and a three-point play. Crowl ended up shooting 9 of 13, and the 7-footer also had eight rebounds.

His previous career high was 21 points in an 89-85 triumph over Illinois State last season.

Crowl shot 3 of 5 from 3-point range Friday after entering the game just 8 of 31 from beyond the arc.

”I think you’re seeing a player grow up in front of your eyes in terms of maturing and understanding how good he can be,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said.

Hepburn scored 11 points and Wahl added 10 for Wisconsin, which led by as many as 18 points in the second half. Tray Maddox Jr. scored 16 and Lamar Norman Jr. added 12 for Western Michigan (4-9).

This marked the second straight game in which Wisconsin struggled in the first half against a team from a lesser conference. The Badgers faced an early nine-point deficit against Lehigh and trailed the Patriot League team 32-31 at halftime before controlling the second half.

Wisconsin grabbed a 14-3 lead less than five minutes into the game but cooled off considerably as Western Michigan clawed its way back into the game. After making seven of their first 11 shots, the Badgers were 3 of 14 the rest of the first half.

Crowl helped the Badgers take control early in the second half.

”He’s playing more physical, more confident,” Gard said. ”It’s just growing into what I think he can be.”

BIG PICTURE

Western Michigan: The Broncos had reason to believe they could compete with a Big Ten team after losing 61-60 at Minnesota in their season opener. Although they never led Friday, they made things interesting for a while despite shooting just 35.7% in the first half. But they couldn’t rally after allowing that huge run early in the second half.

Wisconsin: The Badgers are going to need to avoid these slow starts as they return to Big Ten competition. But, they have reason to feel confident as they carry a win streak into the new year. They shot 62.1% (18 of 29) and had 12 assists and no turnovers in a flawless second-half performance.

UP NEXT

Western Michigan: Opens its Mid-American Conference schedule Tuesday at Kent State.

Wisconsin: Hosts Minnesota on Tuesday.

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