The Wisconsin Badgers took care of business inside the Kohl Center on Monday night, overcoming another deficit to take down the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in a 69–64 victory.
Trailing by as many as 10 points with under three minutes left in the first half, Wisconsin trimmed the Rutgers advantage and later took the lead thanks in part to an early second-half run and better defensive play.
Redshirt senior Ethan Happ scored a team-high 20 points on 10-of-17 shooting. Twelve of those points came in the second half.
Redshirt sophomore D’Mitrik Trice connected on both of his three-point attempts (6-of-9 shooting overall) to end the night with 14 points and four rebounds.
Here are some quick takeaways from Monday’s win:
Khalil Iverson’s four quick second-half points sparked Wisconsin on a 13–4 run that helped the team gain a lead it would not relinquish.
“It was huge,” Happ said of Iverson’s early production in the second half. “We always talk about the first five minutes of the game and the first five minutes of the second half, and it’s even more crucial when we’re down, so for Khalil to come out and give us that spark right away, that kind of led us in momentum to get this win.”
It was not just Iverson’s momentum-churning second half that stood out. He pulled down three of his four rebounds in the final 20 minutes, and in one possession to the next, blocked a Rutgers shot then dished an assist to Aleem Ford for a three-pointer to extend Wisconsin’s lead to 48–41 at the 11:05 mark.
Second-half defense stepped up for Wisconsin in a big fashion. Rutgers shot 53.8 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes but cooled off in the second, only hitting 40.6 percent (13 of 32) of its attempts in the final period.
“Well, first it seems to be a trend right now that we’re trailing at half and having to fight back in the second half, but we’re going to work on fixing that starting at practice on Wednesday,” Trice said. “Honestly, I just got to give it up to the team and the defensive end for the second half. We really stepped up and we really made it tough for them to get easy buckets, which turned into good offense.”
In connecting on both of his three-point attempts, Trice has now hit on 60 percent of his shots from deep so far this season (30 of 50). How long he can keep this up, who knows, but it is an impressive nine-game start for the redshirt sophomore.
Happ is dominant in the interior, and it showed again on Monday night, but his slide at the free-throw line is extremely noticeable. After not connecting on three attempts from the charity stripe, he now is shooting under 42 percent (13 of 31).
That’s going to be something to watch as Wisconsin continues to play in close games moving forward. The Badgers hit six of 13 free throws against the Scarlet Knights.
Brevin Pritzl’s box score may not look flashy—nine points and four rebounds and only 1-of-3 shooting from three-point range—but he came up with some crucial plays, especially in the second half. There was a Ford miss from three-point range that Pritzl grabbed as an offensive rebound that led to a put-back layup at the 15:21 mark to put Wisconsin up 39–35.
He also had a hustle play to avoid a turnover in the second half.
“Even in the Iowa game, Brevin had some big rebounds. In the N.C. State game, he had some big rebounds,” Trice said. “He’s just showing up in the timely possessions that we need him to, whether that’s hitting the big shot or getting a defensive rebound and then knocking down free throws like he did tonight, so it’s just good to have him back mentally and playing at an all-time high confidence-wise.”
In the final 34 seconds, Pritzl connected on all four free-throw attempts. Head coach Greg Gard mentioned after the game that he does not become “consumed” with players’ points, but a few of the finer details.
“I know that’s a number that everybody looks at from the outside,” Gard said, “but I watch how are they engaged defensively? How physical is he on cuts, how physical is he in the post? Does he rebound? Is he mentally engaged in talking about the right things? Brevin has been doing all of those things, and I think when you do all of those little things well that maybe don’t get the accolades or the attention, then offense has a tendency to find you.”
Sophomore forward Nate Reuvers put together another solid outing with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting with two rebounds.
“I thought he was much more aggressive in trying to post, and he can be effective there,” Gard said. “I think that’s still an area that we’ve talked about him being aggressive on the glass and aggressive trying to score in the post.”
Gard also thought Reuvers engaged in contact and trying to get passes deep, and that will be a good sign as another complementary piece to the team.
Looking at turnovers, Wisconsin only committed six against Rutgers. That included taking care of the ball in those final 20 minutes with only one turnover compared to seven assists.