MADISON, WI – Wisconsin fans came out to see the new look Badgers with the departure of mainstays Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes, Zak Showalter, and Vitto Brown. The additions of Kobe King and Brad Davison, along with an almost entirely new starting lineup, should have the Badgers looking foreign. Instead, Badger fans saw much of the same with Preseason All-American Ethan Happ dominating South Carolina State from the jump on the way to an 85-50 victory.
Wisconsin moved the ball well against South Carolina State’s 2-3 zone, as the balanced attack and solid passing through the holes in the zone led to easy buckets for the Badgers. The Badgers had four starters score in double-digits as they outscored South Carolina State 38 to 8 in points in the paint.
“We had some pretty good looks, especially against their zone,” head coach Greg Gard said. “I thought we did a pretty good job, specifically with our fours and fives working with the high low.”
South Carolina State fought valiantly early in the second half, getting the game back within 10 points through some hot shooting. The Bulldogs were down 60-47 with eight minutes left in the game, but the Badgers went on an 8-0 run after two Andy Van Vliet three-pointers and a Brevin Pritzl finish effectively slamming the door shut on the Bulldogs. Wisconsin held the Bulldogs to just three points over the final eight minutes of game time.
“I thought we played extremely well for thirty minutes,” said South Carolina State head coach Murray Garvin. “We were down ten points late in the second half. It was about a three-minute stretch, I believe, it went from ten to 21, and I think that was the difference in the game.”
No one in the country, much less South Carolina State, can stop Happ’s patented spin move. Happ started out 3/3 from the field, executing that spin move to perfection each time, and left defenders dizzy. The National Player of the Year candidate finished with 20 points and 11 boards, and multiple and-one finishes. The Badgers’ center was extremely efficient from the field, converting eight of his 11 shots. Happ did struggle from the free throw line, however, shooting just 4/9 from the charity stripe.
Happ, as much as he dominated the paint, at times also looked like a stellar point guard as well, as he showed no hesitation bringing the ball up the floor off of rebounds. Happ had a transition drive resulting in an and-one, and also brought the ball up the floor and dished a nice pass off to teammate Aleem Ford for an easy dunk in the first half.
While Happ was the driving force in the win, he wasn’t alone in production. First-time starters Brevin Pritzl and Andy Van Vliet both had nice nights, especially in the first half when the Badgers ran out to a seventeen point halftime lead. Pritzl and Van Vliet both had 10 points and each shot 2/3 from the three-point line in the first half.
“It’s hard to compete against a seven-footer that can really shoot the ball from deep like that,” Murray Garvin said of Van Vliet. “There was a couple of shots we were right there, but with his high release…on our end, there’s not much you can do about that.”
Pritzl and Van Vliet both ended the game with career highs in points. Van Vliet finished with 18 points and eight rebounds on 4/5 shooting from the three-point line, and Pritzl finished with 17 points. D’Mitrick Trice played a steady game, also scoring in double-figures with 13 points and five assists. With four players scoring at least ten points, Badger fans have to be thrilled about the balance this team has.
Even with Van Vliet’s coming out party, Gard expects more from the junior from Belgium:
“I look at Andy’s numbers and see he had 18 and eight, and I don’t think he played very well,” Gard said.
Freshmen Brad Davison, Kobe King, and Aleem Ford made their debuts tonight, and while their futures in Madison are extremely bright, they struggled to make much of an impact on opening night, especially on the offensive end.
After the victory, the Badgers have a quick turnaround with a game on Sunday afternoon at 5:00 p.m against Yale at the Kohl Center.