At one point building a nearly 20-point lead in the early minutes of the second half only to see it fall in another stretch to single-digits, Wisconsin eventually held on for an 82–70 win over Chicago State on Wednesday night at the Kohl Center.
This against a team that had only two wins in 15 games and was riding a nine-game losing streak entering the evening. Already this season, Chicago State has lost to Big Ten programs Iowa, Purdue, and Northwestern by a combined 167 points.
“I thought we gave them too much confidence specifically at the start of the second half, and that only gave [Deionte] Simmons some confidence but gave the rest of the team some energy,” head coach Greg Gard said. “Give Chicago State credit, they hit some shots and did some good things, and were able to keep everybody on the edge of their seats.”
Redshirt junior Ethan Happ recorded his fourth double-double of the season for Wisconsin (7–7, 1–1 Big Ten) with his team-high 18-point, 12-rebound performance, which included six assists.
Four other Badgers scored in double-figures, including Khalil Iverson, who registered a career-high 17 points with six rebounds. True freshman guard Brad Davison, who left the game twice due to his left shoulder injury while also taking an elbow to the face, scored 15 points.
Redshirt freshman Aleem Ford hit on three of five three-point attempts, collecting 13 points and five rebounds.
Senior center Deionte Simmons scored a game-high 19 points for Chicago State (2–14) before fouling out of the game later in the second half.
Wisconsin went into halftime with a 41–24 lead on 46.2 percent shooting (12-of-26), with runs of 9–0 and 8–0 helping to provide separation in those first 20 minutes. Davison and Ford combined for 19 points (11 and eight, respectively), with Happ nearly reaching double-double territory with eight points and seven rebounds at the intermission.
Once building its lead to 19 with 17:32 remaining in regulation, Wisconsin saw Chicago State continue to fight back in the second half to whittle down its advantage significantly.
“Even in the first half, I thought we did some good things,” head coach Greg Gard said after the game. “Then in the second half, for whatever reason, we were much more porous in terms of what we were trying to stop or attempting to stop and again gave them confidence.”
With some lapses by the Badgers helping the momentum swing further, the Cougars went on a 9–0 run in a 2:36 span. Anthony Harris’s layup cut the lead to 57–48 with 10:18 remaining in the game.
According to Happ, the team had to “lock in” on the defensive side of the ball.
“I mean that’s what it was,” Happ said. “We weren’t having problems on offense, it was just we were making some mistakes defensively. We’ve got to be better.”
Happ elaborated on the inconsistencies seen in the lapses against opponents on defense.
“I mean we’re good for stretches, and then one thing turns into another,” Happ said. “one mistake turns into another one, and then they go on runs, and that’s just something that if we’re going to beat good teams, that can’t happen.”
Simmons scored 11 of his 19 points and grabbed five of his eight rebounds in the second half.
“He caught the ball too deep,” Gard said. “Caught the ball in a pretty favorable spot for an offensive player. Again, he got some confidence going and was able to make plays at the rim. We didn’t make the catch tough enough without him catching it too deep.
“When you allow a player to get confidence, just like some of our players have gotten confidence in different games, it snowballs. It makes a player sometimes perform better than what they have in previous games.”
With just under seven minutes remaining in the game, the Cougars were shooting over 63 percent from the field (12-of-19) in the second frame. For that second half alone, they shot 54.8 percent altogether.
On the bright side of the win, Wisconsin committed just eight turnovers compared to 14 assists and shot 51 percent from the field (26-of-51)—including 56 percent in the second half.
“I thought we were better in terms of taking care of the ball for the most part,” Gard said. “Our numbers were lower than what they had been, and that’s got to continue to be a trend, but we’ve got to get better in that area and a lot of areas defensively, but specifically ball screens which has been a constant thing that we’ve tried to continue to improve upon and work on.”
Wisconsin will look to make it four in a row against UMass Lowell on Saturday afternoon inside the Kohl Center (3 p.m. CT, BTN) before Big Ten play ramps back up against Indiana on Jan. 2.