Stunningly, the Badgers were able to pull out a gritty 61-54 OT win against Rutgers at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. Thanks to Ethan Happ’s 32, Wisconsin improved to 18-3 on the season and 7-1 in the Big Ten, retaining first place in the conference.

Heroic Happ

Here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, there is a saying that goes, “When you say W-I-S-C-O-N-S-I-N, you’ve said it all.” Well today, Badger fans spell Wisconsin with a collection of different letters, specifically, E-T-H-A-N-H-A-P-P.

That’s right. Just like the Minnesota thriller just a week ago, sophomore Ethan Happ put this Badgers team on his back again and led them to a tough, gritty road victory. The big man finished with a new career-high 32 points, as well as six rebounds, four assists, and three steals against Rutgers. If that wasn’t enough, Happ started the game with more points than the whole Rutgers team early, and closed it out with an ovation at Madison Square Garden, the most well-known arena in the world.

Happ, a man known for his great performances on the court, had some pretty meaningful words after today’s game as well.

“I walked off the court and looked around and appreciated how well our fans travel,” Happ said after the game. “That was something special, and I savored the moment.”

The reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year not only scored over half of his team’s points, but came up big on both ends when the Badgers needed him to do so, particularly in the second half of regulation to help Wisconsin force OT. Somehow, one of the broadcasters did not have Happ on his midseason watch list for Big Ten Player of the Year, even though he has been in some conversations for National Player of the Year, including the USBWA. If this broadcaster paid any attention at all to Happ’s performance today, hopefully his mind has changed a little bit, because that performance was nothing short of incredible.

Stingy Defense

Ethan Happ was the best player on both ends of the floor today, and this was pretty obvious. Especially on the offensive side of the ball, Wisconsin would not have stood a chance without him today.

However, the team’s poor shooting and overall reliance on Happ cannot overshadow the Badgers’ terrific defensive performance today, holding the young, upstart Scarlet Knights to just 45 points in 40 minutes of regulation, and 54 total including the overtime period.

Rutgers had 20 shots at the free throw line, compared to Wisconsin’s 28 attempts, which is always an important statistic for the defensive-minded Badgers. In addition, the Badgers forced 19 turnovers, and scored 17 points off of those turnovers, which was huge in such a low-scoring, grind-it-out game.

Most of all, and especially in crunch time, Wisconsin forced Rutgers to take contested shots. The Scarlet Knights shot just 30% from behind the three-point line, and 35% overall, not much better than the Badgers’ lowly 33% from the field today.

Bench Switches

No one outside of Ethan Happ had a big day for the Badgers, including the Wisconsin bench. Between five players, the bench combined to score just five points on 2/10 shooting, to go along with six rebounds and zero assists. Wisconsin’s bench has been a question mark all season, and although players like D’Mitrik Trice and Khalil Iverson have begun to separate themselves from the rest of the crowd, there are still noticeable areas to address.

Despite playing with the top rotation in practice, Aaron Moesch didn’t receive any playing time today. Additionally, Alex Illikainen, who averages over 10 minutes per game, didn’t come in at all today.

On the other hand, different bench players are stepping up. Jordan Hill got 23 minutes of playing time today, a full 13 minutes above his season average of 10. Additionally, Brevin Pritzl, who’s given the Badgers some good minutes late in blowout games, saw five minutes off the bench in some important situations. With the departure of a few seniors come the end of this season, Greg Gard might be thinking about giving crucial minutes to players deeper on the bench, like Pritzl, in order to give them experience.

——-

It certainly wasn’t pretty, but couple a terrific offensive performance with tough, stingy, defense, and this experienced Wisconsin team was able to leave MSG with a victory to move to 18-3 overall, and 7-1 in the Big Ten conference. Wisconsin takes on Illinois at 8 p.m. CT on BTN this Tuesday.