MADISON – Twenty-first ranked Wisconsin had a convincing win over the Iowa Hawkeyes in Ethan Happ, Charles Thomas, and Khalil Iverson’s final game in the Kohl Center, 65-45. The win moves Wisconsin to 13-6 in the Big Ten and 21-9 overall. The loss was Iowa’s third straight.
Senior night started fittingly with Iverson soaring through the middle of the lane on a powerful dunk just as Badger fans have witnessed throughout his four years in Madison.
Another fitting occurrence on Thursday night was Happ having a double-double, and leading the Badgers with 21 points, 14 rebounds, and additionally chipped in three assists.
Most of the second half ended up being a snoozefest with the Badgers well in control, but that’s something Greg Gard’s squad has needed. The previous eight Wisconsin games have been decided by single digits, going all the way back to January 29th. The Badgers 20-point margin of victory was their biggest since December.
“I didn’t even know what to do,” head coach Greg Gard said jokingly of the win. “I was looking up like how many points are we up?”
“It was definitely nice to stomp on someone’s throat,” said Happ following the game. “With the time of year it is…being able to put 40 minutes together is going to be key.”
The Badgers got out to an early lead by attacking the offensive boards. Aleem Ford had layup off of an offensive rebound (and minutes later would knock down a three from the left corner to go on a personal 5-0 run). Reuvers had back-to-back putbacks off of offensive rebounds, one being and-one. Iverson had his own and-one on a tip-back. Eight of the Badgers 17 points were from second-chance opportunities.
Iowa, without their head coach Fran McCaffrey, went ice cold allowing Wisconsin went on a 12-2 run during the middle of the opening half. The Badgers defense held Iowa scoreless for over four minutes, including three turnovers in that time frame. The Badgers were unable to really open up a lead, however, as they had their own drought of over three minutes during Iowa’s.
It was an ugly half. Joe Wieskamp and Brevin Pritzl traded threes in the final minute of the first to send the game into the break 31-22, Badgers on top. In the first 19 minutes, however, Iowa and Wisconsin combined to shoot just 3/19 from the distance.
Iverson was the busiest player of the first half with his dunk to open up the game, a later dunk, a block, and a smooth save as he tight-roped the sideline and threw the ball back in bounds for a save. He, along with Ford, led the game in scoring with seven points apiece at the break.
The other senior starter, Ethan Happ, waited to do his damage on senior night until after halftime. Happ had 11 points in less than eight minutes as the Badgers got up to an 18-point lead over the Hawkeyes.
Happ was the best player on the floor, especially during the stretch, and that was all Gard’s squad needed to officially break the game open. The McCaffrey-less Hawkeyes started the half just 3/11 with four turnovers. The Badgers scored 17 of the first 23 points of the second half.
With the game well in hand for the Badgers, the Kohl Center crowd was rooting for the final senior, Charles Thomas, to make his impact. The student section even started a “We Want Chuck” chant with him on the bench.
When Thomas did enter, he almost got the crowd to lift the roof off of the Kohl Center. Thomas went up for a putback dunk off a miss and just missed what would have been an acrobatic play on senior night. The crowd, celebrating what was a blowout, still erupted for the strong effort by Thomas.
The bench, after struggling for a large portion of the season, has really come on strong at the end of the year with either Ford, Pritzl, or Kobe King contributing on a nightly basis. The Badgers finished with 17 bench points, including Ford finishing with nine.
“It’s big anytime you can get some offensive punch off the bench,” Gard said. “I thought Aleem was aggressive, physical…he made some big shots specifically in the first half because he gave us some juice offensively.”
Wisconsin outscored the Hawkeyes 34-23 in the second half. Iverson joined Happ in double-figures with 11 in his final outing at home.
The Badgers defense did not allow a single double-digit scorer. Jordan Bohannon led with eight for the Hawkeyes.
Happ and Iverson both credited the Badgers’ ability to defend without fouling post-game. Iowa was just 4/6 from the free throw line on Thursday night.
It was a perfect ending for the seniors. Happ and Iverson exited to applause from the home crowd, and Happ even made his final free throw. Thomas was unable to score, but he was able to end his career with a nice block before exiting to the home crowd applause as well.
“I didn’t want to leave,” Happ said of his exit. “I definitely had a full four-and-a-half years year.”
Up next, the Badgers close out their regular season in Columbus for a matchup with Ohio State on Sunday.