In the 200th border battle meeting between the Wisconsin Badgers and Minnesota Golden Gophers, both teams came in with 15 wins already on the season. Fans came in ready for this one, as the Barn held its first stadium sellout in over two seasons, and Minnesota looked for its first win in six meetings against Wisconsin. When it was all said and done, the Gophers would have to wait a little longer for that win, falling 78-76 in OT.
After some quick misses, senior guard Zak Showalter kicked off the scoring for Wisconsin with a pretty reverse layup. The next possession, Ethan Happ finished a bucket with the foul to put the Badgers up 5-0 early.
The Gophers got going with strong play from freshman Amir Coffey and UW-Milwaukee transfer Akeem Springs, who made just his second start for Minnesota. An early highlight play came from Happ, who found a streaking Showalter with a crosscourt pass for three.
‘The Barn” is known for having a raised court level out on the floor, and Happ was re-acquainted with that aspect, as he dove for a loose ball and was slow to get up early in the game.
Minnesota was playing like they had something to prove, going on a 7-0 run to take their first lead over the Badgers, 20-18. Nate Mason was huge during this run, not scoring but accounting for four assists to this point.
What really kept Wisconsin in the game was Nigel Hayes playing like the best player on the floor, scoring 13 points and grabbing four rebounds in the first half.
The first half finished with a Minnesota lead at 34-32, thanks to nine points a piece from Springs and Coffey.
The story of the majority of the second half was very simple: Ethan Happ against the Minnesota Gophers.
Happ has had a lot of impressive performances in his young UW career, but the man was dominant in the second half, shooting 8/10 for 18 points in the first 13 minutes of the half. At one point, he scored 14 straight for the Badgers.
However, Wisconsin could not get stops, and Minnesota couldn’t miss from deep shooting, 62% with six minutes to go in this one. With under four minutes to go, the Gophers had three players in double figures, and the Badgers has just two and not much bench scoring either.
With the game tied at 67, the game headed to overtime after the Badgers couldn’t get a shot off at the end of regulation. And in overtime, who else but Bronson Koenig took over for the Wisconsin Badgers, hitting two clutch three-pointers including the go-ahead to win the game.
Ethan Happ also banked in a late free throw, and the Badgers escaped the Barn with a win, 78-76. Happ finished with an incredible 28 points, 12 rebounds and six assists (all team highs), while Coffey and Springs led the Gophers with 19 and 16, respectively. Happ’s 28 was a career high, surpassing an effort in January of last year against Indiana where he scored 25.
Wisconsin (16-3, 5-1) is tied for the conference lead with Maryland.