MADISON — Despite missing a significant starter, the Wisconsin Badgers’ strong second half led to a 71–61 win over the Indiana Hoosiers as a Herculean performance by their All-American forward and freshman phenom guard took center stage.
Redshirt junior Ethan Happ dominated the paint over the Hoosiers, scoring a season-high 28 points and grabbing nine rebounds. He also asserted himself with four assists, four steals, and two blocks.
“He plays hard, and he made a lot of good things happen,” head coach Greg Gard said. “Like I said, it’s not always pretty and you can go through different guys that made things happen, that a lot of good things happen by just playing hard. I thought by and large we had a group that played really hard tonight.”
Thirteen of Happ’s 28 points came in the second half, while true freshman guard Brad Davison contributed all 14 of his points in the final 20 minutes.
Wisconsin (9–7, 2–1 Big Ten) as a team outscored Indiana (8–7, 1–2) 41–28 while also out-rebounding IU 20–8 in the second half as Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers watched from the Kohl Center crowd.
“Thought they did a really nice job, especially in the second half of really playing hard, playing physical and the game really changed on the glass,” Indiana head coach Archie Miller said. “That was a big reason why the game changed for us. We were really, to be honest with you, soft on the glass. Thought we did a nice job in the first half of kind of handling the backboard. Weren’t getting as many second shots as we wanted to, but in the second half, the game really changed with second shots.
“When you add in the fact that Happ was really able to, 90 percent of the time, be a guy to get the catch and be able to make really good decisions whether it be working off the doubles or crowds or whatever it may have been, he pretty much made the right play every time, so it was a tough game.”
Davison started off slowly in the first half, not connecting on any of his four shots and picking up two fouls.
“I didn’t think in the first half he had maybe the opportunities that he did in the second half,” Gard said. “He obviously made some big shots at key times in shot clock moments, but he was also the recipient of other guys moving the ball and playing inside out, and he got the ball to go down.”
Davison picked up after halftime, hitting four of eight shots, including two from three-point range. He was also perfect from the free throw line in four attempts.
“I think I just settled down and let the game come to me a little bit more,” Davison sai after recording four rebounds and two assists in 36 minutes. “I think in the first half I was rushing things a little bit. Second half, I just trusted my work, trusted my teammates, and kind of just let the game come to me.”
All this came without starting guard Brevin Pritzl, who was sidelined with a head injury. Gard said after the game that the injury occurred incidentally during the team’s shootaround. He did not know how long Pritzl, who came into the game averaging 8.4 points per contest, will be out.
“That will be in the hands of the medical staff,” Gard said. “They’ll let us know as we go day-to-day with this. He’ll go through a protocol like everybody has to, and that’s a good thing. That’s for the safety of the individual.”
Davison said the team had two to three hours of prep time after Pritzl was declared out of the game.
True freshman forward Nate Reuvers started in Pritzl’s place, scoring three points and grabbing two rebounds in 14 minutes. He also carried four personal fouls for much of the game.
“I think it’s just something here at Wisconsin where it’s next man up,” Happ said when asked if the team is getting good at adjusting on the fly without much preparation. “That’s how we’ve transitioned with putting new guys in different roles. Not even guys just getting hurt but also guys having to switch positions because of those injuries, and I think we’ve done a great job doing that.”
For the game, Wisconsin shot nearly 49 percent (23-of-47) and 7-of-15 from three-point range, while Indiana cooled off in the second half after a strong start. IU connected on 48 percent (24-of-50) from the field but was only 4-of-15 from behind the arc.
Collin Hartman scored a team-high 18 points for the Hoosiers on 6-of-10 shooting (4-of-8 from three-point range), while forward Juwan Morgan recorded 17 points and four rebounds. Guard Robert Johnson also tallied 14 points in the loss for Indiana.
Archie Miller’s team shot 56.5 percent from the field in the first half (13-of-23), nursing a 33–30 lead at intermission with Hartman leading the way with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting (3-of-5 three-point). Both De’Ron Davis and Morgan picked up two personal fouls each and combined for four points in the first 20 minutes, however.
Morgan and Davis came in averaging 15.3 points and 10.1 points per game, respectively, while combining for 11.6 rebounds per contest heading into Tuesday’s match-up against Wisconsin.
“When you don’t have your best players on the floor for 16, 15, 14 minutes of the first half, it obviously really hurts what you’re doing,” Miller said. “Offensively with Juwan and De’Ron out of the game for most of the first half, that paralyzes us. But defensively, you have to do a better job.
“You can’t pick up two in 24 seconds. It’s hard. He gets fouled, he draws a ton of fouls, but as a player, you have to be smart. You have to understand where in his spots he likes to go, and that’s a part of personnel, that’s a part of knowing your scouting report. I didn’t think we did really a good job defending Happ in particular, even in one-on-one situations. It’s just understanding what he’s going to try to do when he gets the ball in certain areas.”
Happ held a game-high 15 points with four rebounds at the half, but the rest of the team scored only 15 in the process while committing seven turnovers. UW only converted five of 10 free throws, with Happ only hitting three of seven.
Davison’s first points came on a three-pointer to tie the game at 35–35 at the 18:59 mark, and after a Happ lay-up gave the Badgers a two-point lead, the teams traded baskets until Indiana took a 45–44 lead with under 14 minutes left to play.
Wisconsin then scored seven straight points on the way to a 16–4 run across nearly eight minutes. After two free throws by junior forward Khalil Iverson, the lead pushed out to 60–49 with 5:26 remaining in the game.
Contributions in that run from Happ (six points), Davison (five), Iverson (two), and redshirt freshman forward Aleem Ford’s three-pointer led to the double-digit lead.
Iverson reeled in 10 points as the third Badger in double-figures, while Ford scored nine (all three-pointers).
Aleem w/ the— Grateful Red (@GratefulRedUW) January 3, 2018
Badgers up 44-42 pic.twitter.com/BYsNwzpMQ7
Wisconsin’s lead hovered between eight and 11 points for the rest of the game until the final buzzer.
Though not prominent on the stat sheet, Wisconsin also received contributions from two former walk-ons. Forward Aaron Moesch scored two points but grabbed three rebounds and added two assists in 25 minutes of play, while guard T.J. Schlundt tallied three points with a rebound and a steal in 20 minutes of play.
Guard Walt McGrory and forward Charles Thomas also contributed four minutes each, with the latter pulling down two points and four rebounds.
“Brevin’s a shooter, and we don’t always need guys to come in and come shoot the ball always,” Happ said. “I think having guys that come in, be solid defensively and move the ball on offense, and when it’s opportune for them to score, they do. I think Moesch especially did a great job tonight of doing exactly that.”
With Happ and Davison leading the way, the contributions of the team as a whole led to Wisconsin’s second conference win in three games.
“I thought Happ was terrific, but so many other guys stepped up at key times,” Gard said before, “whether it was off the bench or other guys that maybe haven’t had the significant of a role that they played tonight. I thought it was terrific team effort to be able to do that rebounding-wise.”
Next, the Badgers will travel out to New Jersey to take on Rutgers on Friday night, starting a stretch where they will play five of their next six games on the road.