MADISON – Nineteenth-ranked Wisconsin overcame a slow start and seven-point halftime deficit to beat Penn State in the Kohl Center, 61-57. Brevin Pritzl was perfect from the field and led the Badgers with 17 points as Wisconsin outscored Penn State 35-24 in the second half.
Wisconsin’s defense was stout during the final stretch. The Badgers held Penn State scoreless from the field for the final eight minutes of the game, and they missed their final nine shots as the Badgers completed their comeback.
Penn State took a 33-26 lead into halftime, converting four of their seven three-point attempts in the half. Penn State scored nine fastbreak points badly outperforming the Badgers, who had zero such points.
Ethan Happ, the Badgers’ leading scorer, missed six shots before he would score. Wisconsin received a pair of threes from their bench in the form of Kobe King and Brevin Pritzl. King led Wisconsin in scoring with seven points at the break. Wisconsin’s big three of Happ, D’Mitrik Trice, and Brad Davison were just a combined 5/18 from the field.
The script flipped after halftime, however. The Badgers scored 12 of the first 17 points, including an 8-0 run, to even the score at 38-38. Happ scored eight points in the first six minutes of play.
Happ did not do it just scoring, and the bench continued to step up. Happ had a beautiful kick out after prodding PSU’s zone to Pritzl for his second three. The next possession down, Happ had a steal that led to a King coast-to-coast finish, giving Wisconsin their first lead, 43-41, since the score was 4-2.
The Badgers’ defense held Penn State scoreless from the field for over six minutes. Wisconsin did, however, keep sending the Nittany Lions to the free throw line, as Lamar Stevens took and made five free throws to keep Penn State within pace. Stevens finished with a game-high 22 points.
Pritzl eventually took the top off the Kohl Center as he hit two more threes, both from the same exact spot. Pritzl and Davison both went down the court animated. Pritzl was 4/4 from the field, all being three-pointers.
“He’s one of the best shooters I’ve ever seen,” said Happ. “I tell him all the time to stop passing the ball and start shooting the ball.”
Penn State kept it close, but the Badgers continued to apply pressure. Davison got fouled on an iffy-call as the shot clock was winding down on a prayer from deep. Davison hit all three of his free throws, and Wisconsin had equaled their scoring output (26 points) from the first half in just 10 minutes and 50 seconds.
Penn State still did not flinch. Rasir Bolton had a strong and-one finish at the rim to tie the game back up, and more importantly, sent Happ to the bench with three fouls and more than eight minutes remaining.
Happ would re-enter with just under six minutes remaining, and within a minute picked up a fourth foul. Penn State again went to the free throw line and tied the game at 53-53. Penn State was 7/9 from the charity stripe in the second half at this point, and Wisconsin missed its last six shots with a three-plus minute scoring drought.
Pritzl ended the scoring drought for Wisconsin as he continued to make things happen with Happ on the bench. Pritzl got loose inside and finished a lay-in to give Wisconsin the lead.
“He sparked us, there’s no doubt,” Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard said of Pritzl. “He’s done that for us a few times this year.”
The next possession, he would again get loose on a cut, but this time Pritzl was fouled and sent to the free throw line. Pritzl hit both, and Wisconsin had a two-possession lead.
Nate Reuvers missed a couple of shots inside and Trice had a travel and a deep-three that did not come close to give Penn State a chance with 14 seconds left, but Khalil Iverson came up huge as he defended an entry pass to the post perfectly and it went off Penn State.
Penn State had another shot at life due to Reuvers missing a free throw, but the game ended with a no-call on a play with a lot of contact, that included Pritzl. Pritzl had his fingerprints all over the game.
“It’s unfortunate the players can’t decide the game, but we won’t play the victim,” Penn State head coach said. “Proud of my guys today.”
Wisconsin won despite finishing just one of their last twelve shots.
The Badgers win snapped Penn State’s three-game winning streak and got the Badgers back on track after an overtime loss at Indiana earlier this week.
Pritzl led with 17 points, Happ added 14 points, six rebounds, and five assists.
Up next, the Badgers play Iowa in the Kohl Center on Thursday night.