MADISON -- Ethan Happ left his head coach scratching his head with two hands. And that's a good thing.
After the first two games of the redshirt freshman forward's career were marred by foul trouble, Happ scored 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds as the Wisconsin Badgers (2-1) defeated North Dakota (1-1) 78-64 Tuesday night at the Kohl Center.
During Happ's redshirt season, his play on the scout team was often sporadic, which surely didn't help keep the hair on the head of 66-year-old Badgers head coach Bo Ryan.
"He'd have days where you'd scratch your head and other days where you'd use two hands to scratch your head, meaning he's doing some good stuff," Ryan said. "You scratch your head with one hand, that's like, ‘Oh no, that's not good.'"
His career day against North Dakota was one of those two-hand head-scratching performances.
"Two hands, that's good. He was having fun out there."
Happ wasn't the only player in cardinal red and white having fun. He and junior guard Bronson Koenig led the Badgers with 17 points apiece, but all five starters finished in double-digit scoring.
Junior forwards Vitto Brown and Nigel Hayes scored 12 and 11 points, respectively, and junior guard Zak Showalter added 11. Wisconsin's starters ended up scoring 67 of the team's 78 points.
Playing the final game of a three-contest, five-night stretch to open the season, the Badgers were able to coast to victory despite being out-shot by North Dakota 48 percent to 43.9 percent.
Now, the Badgers fly out east for the 2K Classic at the Madison Square Garden in New York, where they will meet Georgetown on Friday. A possible rematch of last season's national championship game against Duke looms as a possibility on Sunday if both teams win their first games.
"I'm excited for it," Happ said. "Playing in the Madison Square Garden, that's like the Holy Grail of basketball. So to go there and play, that's going to be exciting on its own."
When North Dakota last visited the Kohl Center, it was on the night of former Badgers center Frank Kaminsky's national coming-out party.
Hosting UND once again on Tuesday night, it was Happ's turn.
There would be no school record-setting 43-point performance, but Happ was able to come through on the promise he displayed as a true freshman last season.
"I'm going to do whatever I can to help the team win," Happ said. "I don't care if I score two points, or if I score 17 points. But it really doesn't matter to me what I contribute as long as our team wins.
"I just need to give it 100 percent and stay out of foul trouble."
Foul trouble was what plagued Happ's first two games. He picked up early fouls in both contests and played only 37 minutes combined.
"I know I had two fouls early in both games, and I paid the price," Happ said. "I didn't play that much. I felt like I couldn't help the team in our loss, but you learn from it and move on."
Of Happ's seven field goals made in 11 attempts, all came from within five feet of the basket. Part of a significant trend growing among the Badgers, Happ had five of Wisconsin's 16 offensive rebounds.
For his coach, it was the prototypical Ethan Happ game.
"That's his game," Ryan said. I mean, that's what he has to do for us because he's not a prolific outside shooter. He knows how to get things done to help a team, so that's what he has to do: stick with what you do well. And that's what he does well, 10 feet and in, 15 feet and in, he's pretty tough."
Through three games, the Badgers have grabbed 47 offensive rebounds that have led to 52 second-chance points.
The Badgers out-sized nearly the entire North Dakota lineup, Ryan harped on remaining aggressive in the rebounding battle.
"It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the fight in the dog," Ryan said. "Just because you might be bigger, or if you're not quite as big, doesn't mean you can't get in and get some rebounds."
In the coast-to-coast victory for Wisconsin, North Dakota did not come within less than six points after the 13:35 mark of the first half.
That first half was all about Happ, who led the Badgers to a 35-22 lead with 11 points and six rebounds. Four of those boards came on the offensive end, as Wisconsin grabbed 10 offensive rebounds to salvage one point per possession in the half despite shooting only 14-of-38 from the field.
Koenig added eight points and three rebounds, Brown had six points and Showalter scored five to round out the Badgers' halftime leaders.
Wisconsin attempted 16 more field goals than North Dakota in the half, thanks in part to its rebounding dominance and 11 turnovers from UND.
After a sloppy first half offensively, the Badgers picked up their play and made 15 of 28 shots (53.6 percent) in the second.
Koenig made three of six three-point attempts and now leads the team with nine on the season.
Hayes finished with 11 points despite 1-of-8 shooting to open the game. What was impressive to his coach and teammates, however, was his complete night. Hayes finished with six rebounds, seven assists, one block and one steal to go along with his third consecutive double-figures scoring game to start the season.
"Don't tell Nigel this, but he's a great player," Happ said.
On the season, Hayes leads the Badgers with 15 assists to along with zero turnovers.
"How could you not like that?" Ryan said of Hayes' efficiency with the ball. "They'd have to lock me up if I said I didn't like that. They'd have to find a room for me somewhere."
The Badgers have come back strong after their season-opening upset loss to Western Illinois, but there is still clear room for improvement.
"Obviously, we've come a long way as a group, but we still got a lot to learn," Showalter said. "Offensively, we're starting to hit some shots and guys are starting to be more comfortable on the court with each other, but we're still learning a lot of things on defense."
Ryan didn't wait to give his team his thoughts on what it did wrong on Tuesday, including allowing 18 points in the paint in the second half and 20 points in the final 5:28 of action.
"I don't know what coach said to you guys, but he wasn't too happy with us after this game," Happ said. "Even though we got the win, there's still a lot of stuff we can work on."
Geno Crandall added 19 points in 22 minutes off the bench for North Dakota, including 14 in the final 3:02 of the game.
The Badgers also learned before the game that they would be without freshman forward Andy Van Vliet for the season.
NCAA rules state that prospective student-athletes have one year to enroll in a collegiate institution following their high school graduation date. Van Vliet repeated a level of school so that he could gain admission academically to UW and, thus, played as an amateur outside of that window. UW appealed the initial ruling from the NCAA, citing circumstances outside Van Vliet's control.
"You lose a year and you sit a year because you're trying to get a better education," Ryan said. "You know how I am about some of those other rules, but this one doesn't make any sense."