MADISON, WI – Typically you will find yourself down on the scoreboard if you have zero first-half assists, five turnovers, and only one made three. That’s the position the #12 Badgers were in on Monday night. In a tale of two halves, however, Wisconsin outplayed Rutgers just enough in the final twenty minutes to win 69-64 and extend their winning streak to three games.
Ethan Happ wasn’t quite the one-man show he usually is, but he led Wisconsin with 20 points and added four rebounds and three assists. The game was won on the defensive end for Wisconsin after they tightened things up in the second half. Rutgers shot just 13/32 from the field in the second half, and the Badgers outscored the Scarlet Knights 43-33.
D’Mitrik Trice had been quiet most of the game but got hot at the end just like the previous two wins. Trice stretched out the lead with a personal 5-0 run that gave the Badgers an 11 point lead, their largest of the night to that point. With under a minute left and the Badgers up by five points, Trice hit a three from the right wing to deliver the knockout blow to Rutgers. He finished with 14 points.
“It seems to be a trend right now that we’re trailing at half,” Trice said. “We’re gonna work on fixing that starting on practice on Wednesday. I’ve gotta give it up to this team defensively in the second half.”
Rutgers got up early behind Geo Baker, who actually left the game briefly after the very first possession of the game. Baker had nine of his team’s first 18 points. Wisconsin’s defense wasn’t as stout as it is typically; they blew assignments leading to easy baskets. Baker blew by Brad Davison, who received no help from his teammates, for an easy layup. Shaq Carter rolled to the hoop unguarded leading to another layup.
Wisconsin got looks inside but was unable to capitalize on a few instances. Reuvers had a nice Happ-like move for an and-one but would make another nice post move later, draw the foul, and miss both of the free throws. Khalil Iverson, too, made a beautiful post move but just missed the bunny. There was one instance where it appeared Happ had room to put up a hook shot, but perhaps too unselfishly passed the ball to Iverson under the hoop and the ball went out of bounds.
Wisconsin had a four-minute 11-second drought that allowed Rutgers to open up a 10-point lead in the Kohl Center. Brevin Pritzl, who had his best game of the season last time out against Iowa, finally hit Wisconsin’s first three of the game with under a minute remaining in the first half, getting the Badgers back within five.
When the second half started, the Badgers looked more inspiring. Wisconsin scored 13 of the first 17 points. Iverson, after going scoreless in the first half, converted a tough shot in the paint on the first possession. The senior then followed that up by getting his hand in the passing lane and converting a fast break layup.
Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard said of Iverson: “I thought he really ignited us.”
Reuvers gave Wisconsin their first lead of the game at 35-33 with a three off of a beautiful feed from Happ. Pritzl made a few key hustle plays during the run. Pritzl snagged a tough offensive board and promptly put it back in for a bucket. The next possession, he ran down a bad post-entry pass from Reuvers to save the ball and the possession, and the possession ended with a Reuvers bucket.
“Even in the Iowa game, Brevin had some big rebounds,” Trice said of Pritzl. “In the NC State game, he had some big rebounds. He’s just showing up in the timely possessions we need him to. It’s nice to have him back mentally and playing at an all-time high confidence-wise.
The Badgers took complete control on a highlight reel play. Iverson viciously blocked a layup attempt. The Badgers recovered the loose ball, leading to a D’Mitrik Trice three-fourths of the court heave to Iverson under the hoop, who quickly kicked it out to a wide open Aleem Ford in the corner for three. Nothing but net.
Nate Reuvers finished with 10 points in 16 minutes to help keep things moving when the offense was in a rut. Glue guy contributions from Iverson, Ford, and Pritzl were big time for a struggling Badger team on Monday night. Wisconsin only had one turnover and seven assists after halftime.
“Look at the stretch we’ve been through,” Gard said of the difference between the first and second halves. “We expect it to be competitive… This was gonna be a heck of a stretch to go through.”
Up next, the Badgers play in-state rival Marquette in Milwaukee on Saturday at 4 p.m.