The Wisconsin Badgers, coming into Monday night’s matchup with Penn State, dropped five of their last six including a historic loss at home last time out. A team in desperate need of a win got exactly what the doctor ordered, as the Badgers held off Penn State down the stretch on their way to a 64-63 victory. The Badgers, now 4-5, notched their first Big Ten win of the season. Penn State falls to 7-3 overall and 1-1 in the Big Ten.
Wisconsin was up 57-43 with less than 10 minutes remaining, and nearly squandered it all. Penn State ripped off a ferocious 20-7 run, down just 64-63 with 14.7 seconds left. Aleem Ford missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving Penn State a chance at the end of the game. Tony Carr fired a three-pointer with the clock running out, but it missed right. Ford would force a jump ball off the rebound with .6 seconds remaining, and the Badgers owned possession, saving the game for Wisconsin.
The Badgers won a game they weren’t favored in without Ethan Happ playing superhuman, which is a step this team had yet to make. Happ struggled from the field and with foul trouble, scoring just nine points on 3/12 shooting from the field before eventually fouling out. Nathan Reuvers picked up some of the slack, playing his best game of his young career, hitting jumpers and executing some nice post moves. The freshman scored a career-high 11 points.
Wisconsin’s defense has been shaky all year, particularly, the team has had a hard time guarding opposing star guards. Going against Tony Carr, one of the Big Ten’s best, might have given Badger fans something to worry about. The sophomore guard came into the game averaging just over 20 points per game, but the Badgers held him to just 1/9 shooting during the first half. Carr had trouble getting anything easy, finishing with 16 points on 5/22 shooting from the field.
Khalil Iverson had an amazing bounce back after a few rough performances in recent games. Greg Gard benched Iverson, who had started every half of the season, at the start of the second half in the Ohio State game. On Monday night against Penn State, the junior forward started out 6/6 in the first half, scoring 14 points with most of them coming at the rim. Iverson didn’t score in the last two outings against Virginia and Ohio State, and only had four against Milwaukee before that. Iverson propelled the Badgers to a 31-25 lead at halftime.
Wisconsin continued to increase the lead at the start of the second half, courtesy of jumpers finally starting to fall. Aleem Ford started the half out with a three, and then Trice and Reuvers would hit back-to-back mid-range shots, putting the Badgers up by double-digits, 40-30. Penn State started out 1/8 from the field in the final period.
The Badgers really took control when Kobe King knocked down a three, putting the Badgers up 46-34. After another Iverson bucket and a Brevin Pritzl three in the corner, Wisconsin found itself up 51-34 with less than ten minutes remaining.
Penn State would rally off that run at that point, but D’Mitrik Trice hit clutch free-throws down the stretch to hold the Nittany Lions off.
Penn State big man Mike Watkins scored his season-high against Iowa with 19 points. Watkins gave the Badgers fits inside, scoring 14 points in the first twenty minutes, outscoring his game average of 11 points per game. He helped Penn State run out to an early lead, scoring eight of the team’s first ten points. Watkins had a beautiful alley-oop finish through contact resulting in an and-one. He also made plays on the defensive end, as he blocked Happ twice and stuffed Reuvers at the rim as well. Watkins finished with career-high in points with 22, 8 rebounds, and 7 blocks.
The Badgers held Penn State to 2/13 from beyond the arch, while shooting 5/11 themselves.
Wisconsin has a quick turnaround at Temple on Wednesday at 6 p.m.