MADISON — For a while, it appeared that the Wisconsin Badgers were going to have a repeat of Wednesday's game against Chicago State, when they allowed a two-win team to hang around for nearly all 40 minutes.
Due to the strong shooting of Ethan Happ and a strong seven-plus minute stretch, however, Wisconsin pulled away from Umass Lowell relatively early in an 82–53 win on Saturday afternoon at the Kohl Center.
With the score tied at 11–11 at the 13:48 mark in the first half, Wisconsin (8–7, 1–1 Big Ten) proceeded to jump on an 18–3 run in a 7:18 span, which was capped by a Nate Reuvers layup. UMass Lowell (6–7) struggled to keep up with the Badgers, who seemed determined to not play down to their competition.
During a first half where UW jumped to a 42–20 halftime lead, the Badgers shot 56.7 percent (17-of-30) from the field, 62.5 percent (8-of-15) from the three-point line.
As a team for the game, the Badgers shot 56.1 percent (32-of-57) from the field as well as 53.3 percent (8-of-15) from the the three-point line. The solid shooting was mainly due to the Badgers’ ability to score with high-percentage shots with 42 of their 82 points coming in the paint.
Happ tallied 11 points in just 13 minutes of play in the first half and finished tied for a game-high 18 with guard Brevin Pritzl. It was also a historic game for the redshirt junior forward from Milan, Ill. With three assists against the River Hawks, Happ reached a milestone and joined an exclusive group of Big Ten players to record 1,100 career points, 700 rebounds, and 200 assists.
He is one of the four Badgers (Alando Tucker, Nigel Hayes, and Mike Wilkinson) to be added to this short list of storied players with these numbers.
Pritzl appeared to find his shot, finishing the game with a career-high 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the field, 4-of-6 from three-point range.
For the second straight game, freshman forward Aleem Ford finished in double-figures with 10 points (2-of-3 from three-point range) and grabbed seven rebounds. True freshman Brad Davison led the team with six assists and added seven points.
Badger head coach Greg Gard spoke highly of Ford after the game, but believes there is still room for improvement.
"He's got great potential, i'm excited about his future, and he wants to learn and get better," Gard said. "At the time he understands that there are a lot of things he needs to get better at, specifically on the defensive side of the ball."
Throughout the season, UMass Lowell has relied heavily on its redshirt senior forward, Jahad Thomas. Thomas led the River Hawks team in points, rebounds, and assists heading into Saturday’s game, but the Badgers contained him to just nine points and four rebounds.
Redshirt junior forward Josh Gantz recorded a team-high 16 points and senior guard Matt Harris also added 14 for UMass Lowell.
“We lost to a very good team,” UMass Lowell's head coach Pat Duquette said. “Obviously we were severely outsized so our game plan going in was to try and double down on their bigs.”
The Badgers’ ability around the rim also played a key role in this win. They out-rebounded the River Hawks 36–19 and made use of their second-chance opportunities (18 points).
“I think we did a little better job in the second half both doubling and getting back out to shooters,” Duquette said. “But at that point they were already up 20 points.”
Wisconsin’s bench also contributed throughout the game, accounting for 21 points. Reuvers collected eight points in 14 minutes of play. Junior forward Charles Thomas registered six points and three rebounds, while Alex Illikainen reeled in five rebounds.
Despite their lack of minutes in recent games, Gard had some good things to say about both Thomas and Illikainen.
“I thought they both did some good things,” Gard said. "They both had a couple good days at practice and have been a little bit more consistent. It’s one performance, it’s one game, it will be reevaluated and rejudged tomorrow in practice and that's how we always move forward.”
The Badgers close out 2017 on a four-game win streak that they hope can carry over into the new year. With this win, the Badgers find themselves above .500 for the first time since Nov. 19, before they lost to Baylor in the 2017 Hall of Fame Classic.
In just three days, Wisconsin will resume its Big Ten schedule when it faces Indiana on Jan. 2 in Madison (6 p.m. CT, ESPN).