MADISON – Penn State has been peskier this year than others with wins against Michigan State, a hot Minnesota team, and almost knocking off Indiana. Penn State was able to scare Wisconsin for a half, but the Badgers would eventually explode right after halftime on their way to a 82-55 win.
Bronson Koenig, Ethan Happ, and Vitto Brown all scored in double figures. The Badgers scored 19 of the second half’s first 25 points, thanks to the three ball, to push the team’s home game winning streak to 18.
However, before the Badgers would pull away, the Nittany Lions went shot for shot with the Badgers. The halftime score was just 36-33 with the Badgers having the slight edge.
Koenig had 10 first half points, Hayes had eight, and Happ and Brown added seven points each, but the Badgers weren’t able to break away from Penn State. Koenig continued his hot streak early as he hit two threes from the right wing.
Shep Garner was 3/3 from behind the three-point line and Payton Banks added two timely threes of his own to keep the Nittany Lions close. Penn State received a lot of help from their bench, which scored 14 points to the Badgers two.
Wisconsin went to the free throw line 16 times during the first half courtesy of reaching the bonus early but were not able to fully take advantage. The Badgers were just 10/16 from the charity stripe, with Happ and Hayes both going 3/6 from the free throw line. Wisconsin is shooting just over 66% on the season from the free-throw line, so 10/16, although it sounds horrible, is just about right on track for the Badgers.
Greg Gard’s squad came out of halftime firing on all cylinders to finally create some separation. Happ scored on the first two possessions on post moves, and then Zak Showalter hit a three to push the Badgers up 43-33. After a Penn State bucket, Koenig hit his trademarked corner three to put the Badgers up by 11.
After only going 4/12 from behind the arc in the first half, Vitto Brown would hit the third Badger three in less than five minutes to extend the Badgers lead to 14.
The Badgers officially had things under control when Khalil Iverson took over for a couple minutes. Badger fans are used to his patented slams, and on Tuesday night he had a monster dunk over a Penn State defender. His defender fell asleep on an inbounds play, and Koenig just threw it up, and Iverson took care of the rest as the Kohl Center crowd went into a frenzy. The next defensive possession, Iverson forced a loose ball as he dove on the ground and Hayes corralled it and lofted it forward to D’Mitrik Trice for a fast break layup. The next possession, Iverson would do something the Badger fans aren’t nearly accustomed too as he knocked down a three. The crowd was nearly as loud as it was for the dunk. When Iverson’s mini run was all said and done, the score was 62-41.
“There’s a debate whether the dunk got him going or the dive on the floor,” Greg Gard said. “I think it was the dive on the floor.”
“Just like I usually say, I know my role coming off the bench,” Iverson said. “That’s to make the little plays, get rebounds, and play defense. I think the dive on the floor gave us a little spark, so that’s just what I try to do.”
Koenig led the Badgers in scoring with 20 points on 8/13 shooting and 4/9 from the three-point line. Brown had 16 points and Happ added 14 as the Badgers badly outscored the Nittany Lions in the paint, 28-10. Hayes had a solid all-around game with nine points, eight boards, and four assists.
“Great second half by Wisconsin,” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said. “We played a good 20 minutes. Against great teams, it’s a 40-minute game… It’s pick your poison, guarding Happ and Hayes on the inside or Koenig on the outside.”
PSU scored just 22 points in the second half on 7/26 shooting, struggling mightily after the Badgers ramped up their defense. Wisconsin forced 17 turnovers. Tony Carr and Payton Banks had 12 points each to lead Penn State in scoring.
The Badgers travel to Rutgers on Saturday at 11 A.M. The Badgers beat Rutgers 72-52 on December 27th.