His teammates picked up the slack from there as the Badgers used their rebounding superiority to defeat the third-ranked Golden Eagles 75-64 on Saturday. Klesmit scored all 21 of his points in the first half and posted his highest point total since transferring from Wofford before the 2022-23 season.
"(To get) off to a hot start like that, it's been a while," Klesmit said. "Maybe even back to high school. You've got to go before Wofford."
Wisconsin fans stormed the court to celebrate the first three-game winning streak for either team in the 130-game series between two in-state rivals separated by 79 miles. Wisconsin won four straight over Marquette from 1998-2001.
The Badgers never trailed, thanks in part to Klesmit's fast start. Klesmit shot 6 of 9 overall, 5 of 8 from 3-point range and 4 of 4 on free-throw attempts in the first half as Wisconsin had a 46-33 lead at the break.
"Give Klesmit a lot of credit," Marquette coach Shaka Smart said. "I like him as a player because he is like: 'I'm going after it. I don't care who I'm playing against. I don't care what anyone says. I'm going to play with a chip on our shoulder.' Maybe our team can take a cue from that - watching that - and maybe we can emulate him."
Klesmit didn't score after halftime, when Smart noted Marquette's defenders "were close enough he could smell our breath."
Wisconsin still found a way to win, thanks in part to its dominance on the glass. Wisconsin outrebounded the Golden Eagles 38-23 and outscored them 18-2 in second-chance points.
"The coaches have been on Tyler (Wahl) and I and AJ (Storr) - our 3, 4, 5 - about crashing the glass," said Steven Crowl, who had 16 points and a game-high eight rebounds. "It's kind of shown this season."
After trailing by 16 in the closing seconds of the first half, Marquette went on a 17-2 run to get the margin down to one with 14:46 left in the game. But the Golden Eagles never could grab the lead and failed to make a basket for more than seven minutes at one point in the second half, enabling Wisconsin to regain its double-digit advantage.
"When adversity comes, you've got to go back and attack it," Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. "We didn't get that deer-in-the-headlight look. I think we responded. Part of that was I think the older guys in the huddle - Tyler, Max, Chucky (Hepburn) - were pretty vocal and got after some guys about how we needed to play, and they responded."
Marquette: The Golden Eagles keep digging themselves into early holes during these annual matchups with Wisconsin. They trailed by 16 early in the second half last year but rallied to take the lead before Wisconsin ultimately survived 80-77 in overtime. Marquette nearly erased a 16-point deficit again Saturday but ended up paying for its poor start.
Wisconsin: The Badgers seemed on the verge of blowing an opportunity for a signature win when their lead shrank amid a flurry of turnovers early in the second half. But they regained their poise, played exceptional defense and earned their first win over a top-five team since a 74-69 victory at No. 3 Purdue on Jan. 3, 2022. Wisconsin maintained it lead despite shooting 0 for 7 from 3-point range in the second half.
Marquette likely will drop a couple of spots, but could remain in the top five on Monday. Wisconsin didn't get a single vote in this week's AP Top 25 poll, so it will take a big leap for the Badgers to make it into the rankings based on this victory.
Marquette: Hosts Texas on Wednesday in a Big East/Big 12 Battle matchup. Marquette coach Shaka Smart coached Texas from 2015-21.
Wisconsin: Opens its Big Ten schedule by visiting Michigan State on Tuesday.