MADISON- Twenty-second ranked Wisconsin avoided a near-upset to hand Illinois its first loss in the month of February, 64-58. On Monday night, Wisconsin won its tenth Big Ten game thanks to its defense, Khalil Iverson, and Brad Davison. With the win, Wisconsin improves to 18-8, and 10-5 in the Big Ten.
Most nights, you can count on Ethan Happ to carry Wisconsin offensively, and you can take a random guess at who the complimentary contributors are going to be. On Monday night, Happ scored in single-figures for just the second time all year, both against Illinois, and set his season low with six points. In fact, Happ sat on the bench during crunch time, with Gard giving the minutes to Brevin Pritzl.
“The nice thing about having a team is you have different guys on different nights,” Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard said. “Other players were able to step up when he was having a rough night.”
Instead, it was Iverson and Davison who picked up the offense. Iverson had a season-high 16 points, only his third time with over ten points this season. In addition to the 16 points, the senior forward grabbed eight rebounds. Davison led the team in scoring with 18 points, including a pair of threes. Davison and Iverson were the only Badgers in double-figures against Wisconsin.
“I think Iverson loves seeing orange and blue,” Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said. “He’s played great against us.”
Wisconsin, who looked like it was suffering from a bad case of the Monday’s, started out just one-of-ten from the field despite getting good looks. Wisconsin’s offense was only able to muster up six points in the first 11 minutes of the game, with stretches such as a four-and-a-half minute drought and four turnovers in four minutes.
Illinois was not much better offensively but three of their buckets came from distance, including a pair from Aaron Jordan, as they were able to build a lead over the Badgers in the Kohl Center early on. Illinois, coming in winning four straight contests, had a chance to create separation and really scare the Badgers, but failed to do so.
Iverson was the spark Wisconsin needed in the first half. Iverson finished the half with six points. The senior scored on an isolation drive from the top of the key and had a tough finish at the rim after a spin. Later, he sank a fifteen-foot jump shot from the baseline. Iverson’s best moment, however, was at the very end of the half when he came flying down the middle of the lane for a putback dunk at the buzzer. The acrobatic finish sent the Kohl Center into a frenzy.
“(Khalil) is always a spark for us,” Davison said. “When he’s ripping the rim down, that gives us all energy.”
Wisconsin closed the first half on a 7-2 run after previously hearing boos from the home crowd. Illinois’s lead was down to just one point after leading for 18 minutes and 58 seconds of the first half.
The Badgers took their first lead of the game on the first possession of the second half. Davison found an open D’Mitrik Trice in the corner for three, which the sophomore point guard drained.
But Illinois never let the game get away from them. All-in-all, the second half featured seven lead changes and two ties. Neither team could get a comfortable lead.
Iverson continued to impress in the second half. Iverson flew in from the right baseline for another monster slam. Moments later, he drove from the right baseline and finished through to Illinois defenders.
With Illinois down five, freshman Ayo Dosunmu stepped up in a big way for Brad Underwood’s squad. Dosunmu, with just one bucket at this point, hit a three. After a Davison free throw, Dosunmu then finished at the hoop on a fastbreak, plus the foul, to even things up in the Kohl Center with less than four minutes to go. Illinois badly outscored Wisconsin in transition points on Monday night.
But then, it was Davison and Iverson, just as it had been all night. Davison hit a jumper from the right elbow to give Wisconsin the lead back. On the defensive end, Iverson emphatically swatted away an attempt at the rim, leading to a fast break for Davison who finished with a beautiful euro step.
The dagger would come from Nathan Reuvers, who put back a missed Pritzl three-point attempt to give Wisconsin a four-point advantage with under 20 seconds remaining. Reuvers snapped Wisconsin’s two-game losing streak and the Fighting Illini’s four-game winning streak.
“Normally when Brevin shoots I just head back because it goes in,” Reuvers said. “It came right to me, and I put it in.”
Even for a more fitting ending, Iverson stole the inbounds pass to officially end things, and to cap off his outstanding night.
“We were talking in the timeout and the coaches showed us a play that they might run,” Iverson said. “I think that’s the exact play they ran. I just tried to anticipate it. I think I’m quick.”
Dosunmu finished with 13 to lead Illinois, Aaron Jordan chipped in 12. Illinois led for more game time than Wisconsin did, but ultimately not when it mattered.
Up next, the Badgers visit Northwestern on Saturday for a 7:30 p.m. matchup.