MILWAUKEE—Pitted against the in-state rival Marquette Golden Eagles in a rowdy road environment, the afternoon for the Wisconsin Badgers went the same way as forward Ethan Happ’s.
For both, there was the forgettable first half. Happ, Wisconsin’s most imposing post presence, committed two early fouls and sat out the final 18 minutes of a first half that concluded with the No. 17 Badgers trailing, 40-35.
Over a highly efficient second half, the performance of Happ and Wisconsin deemed the first 20 minutes unimportant as a furious performance and a lethally balanced Badgers attack were more than enough.
Guard Bronson Koenig scored 18 points and forward Nigel Hayes added 17 points and nine rebounds as the No. 17 Badgers defeated the in-state rival Marquette Golden Eagles, 93-84, at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on Saturday afternoon.
“When we play our game, we’re really good,” Koenig said. “When we get away from that, when we shoot tough shots, we’re not as good. Like [head coach Greg Gard] says, we’re a handful when we get it inside and play our game, get to the free throw line.”
One week after the Badgers trailed Oklahoma at half before outscoring the Sooners 53-30 over the final 20 minutes to win, Wisconsin rattled off a 16-0 run en route to scoring 58 second-half points while shooting 64.3 percent from the field.
With the win following last season’s loss at the Kohl Center, Wisconsin extended its all-time series lead over the team 75 miles east to 67-56.
After a week of playing down the significance of the rivalry, Hayes kept the same approach post-game.
“This rivalry doesn’t mean much to me—I’m from Ohio, so I don’t really care,” Hayes said. “I just look at it as another game that we have the ability to go out and win against a good team, and try to get ourselves better as a team.
“But I guess, since I am here, we had a little bump last year in the road. Water always finds its level, big brother always rises back to the top where we’re supposed to be.”
Spurred on by a 16-0 run through the middle of the second half, Wisconsin staked out a lead as large at 18 points, with six Badgers finishing with double-digit scoring totals.
Happ sat for nearly the entirety of the first half, but returned in a big way to spark Wisconsin, scoring all of his 11 points in the second half.
“He ate [Marquette forward Luke] Fischer alive, and that’s what we’ve been telling him to do,” Hayes said of Happ. “We know he’s great down there in the low post and does a great job for us there. You definitely saw when he came back in, he was ready to go out there and play.”
Guard Khalil Iverson poured in a career-high 16 points off the bench, including a breakaway dunk to seal the game with 43 seconds remaining, forward Vitto Brown added 15 points and guard Zak Showalter scored 11 points.
The Badgers relied on Iverson significantly in reserve duty, logging the fourth-most minutes on the team with 25. Going small against a Marquette opponent that can be potent in its shooting and ball-handoffs, Iverson was a key figure in a defensive effort that stymied the Golden Eagles offense just enough.
“Just playing confident, going out and playing confident and these guys trusting me,” Iverson said. “I don’t try to go out and get too much. Just try to be a sparkplug off the bench and contribute in any way that I can. “
Guard Markus Howard scored 22 points to lead all scorers, while forward Katin Reinhardt and guard Haanif Cheatham scored 16 points apiece.
For the game, the Badgers shot 58.2 percent (32-for-55) from the field and hit eight of 18 3-pointers, with Koenig going 4-for-6 from deep. Wisconsin scored 1.329 points per possession against the Golden Eagles.
“Ball movement was definitely an emphasis, especially at halftime, after taking a couple of questionable shots in the first half,” Koenig said. “We just tried to play our game in the second half, move the ball around, get it inside and having Ethan back really helped us out a lot.”
In a first half that saw 10 lead changes and four ties, Marquette used a 14-4 run to rally from a seven-point deficit and hold 40-35 halftime lead. Koenig scored 10 points to lead the Badgers, while Reinhardt poured in four 3-pointers to score 13 points.
Happ made his presence felt immediately in the second half scoring six points to spark a 18-7 Wisconsin run coming out of the break. The Badgers jumped ahead 67-50 on a D’Mitrik Trice steal and layup with 8:13 to play and pulled ahead by a game-high 18 points on a Hayes corner triple on the next possession.
“It was just doing what we always preach,” Hayes said of the run. “We like to play inside-out, like most teams do. We know runs always start on the defensive end, you can’t really make a run if you keep trading buckets.”
Enthused by a crowd that began lining up for the game overnight, Marquette didn’t go quietly. Led by Howard, the Golden Eagles drew to within eight points with 3:06 to play. Hayes threw down a dunk on the ensuing possession and made his way to the free-throw line on three consecutive possession to give Wisconsin an 83-71 lead with one minute to play.
After Badgers took care of business at the free throw line over the last minute, the final buzzer sounded and the Golden Eagles contingent in the arena dispersed.
Water also found its level.