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Happ Carries Badgers to Ugly OT Victory over Rutgers

Horrific memories of Penn State-Wisconsin in the 2011 Big Ten tournament ran through most Badgers fans heads on Saturday. That’s because that 36-33 mess of a loss was about as pathetic as what we witnessed at Madison Square Garden on Saturday afternoon.

Despite one of the worst shooting performances in a long time, Wisconsin was able to get over the finish line in a 61-54 comeback overtime victory. UW can thank a herculean effort from sophomore center Ethan Happ for the win.

He put up a career-high 32 points on 12 of 18 shooting from the field. He also added 8 of 16 from the free throw line, while pulling in six rebounds and dishing out three assists. It was all needed, as Wisconsin was downright awful on the offensive end of the court.

The Badgers shot just 33 percent from the field and were just 20 percent before some late quality shooting gave them that final number. In fact, Wisconsin shot just 20 percent from the field in the first half, trailing Rutgers 25-20 in the process.

It was an ugly first half, but a pretty ugly 40 minutes for Wisconsin’s seniors, who were needed badly as Rutgers slowly built a nine-point lead in the second half.

Wisconsin’s three seniors — Vitto Brown, Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig — couldn’t hit the broad side of the barn, combining to go just 4 of 28 from the field.

Wisconsin’s offense was off the mark for most of the night, but the defense came to play in a big way. UW’s defense forced 19 turnovers, with plenty of them coming late as Rutgers looked to close out the Badgers.

Instead, Wisconsin turned those 19 turnovers in to 17 points and it all helped erase that nine-point lead and turn it in to a tie ballgame at the end of regulation. Happ and Hayes teamed up to make Rutgers pay for playing soft zone defense in the middle throughout the OT period and what looked like a loss coming with just over three minutes to play turned in to a seven-point victory instead.

Observations:

  • Let’s just say Wisconsin was lucky, because it went almost 14 total minutes without a field goal and was still competitive. Credit Wisconsin for not letting its offensive struggles affect them on the defensive end, as they took care of business there all day long and never allowed Rutgers a larger lead than seven points. Eventually the big players got hot when needed and that’s all that really matters.
  • Lost in all of Ethan Happ’s amazingness is the fact that he played the entire overtime period with four fouls and never committed the final foul in the last five minutes of the game. He stayed aggressive on the offensive end and had a block and a steal in the OT period alone. Most will talk about his offense, but it was one heck of a day all-around for the sophomore.
  • Wisconsin showed why it cold be dangerous at any point in time in this one. This was easily the worst offensive performance of the season through 38 minutes of action, but Rutgers couldn’t hold down the three-headed monster of Happ, Hayes and Koenig for good and it cost them dearly down the stretch. Happ had eight points afte RU went up

Grades:

ETHAN HAPP: A+
STAT LINE: 32 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals, 2 blocks, 12-18 FG’s

REST OF TEAM: D-

Yes, Hayes and Koenig got hot late and Showy hit a clutch reverse layup, but that all happened really late in regulation. Heck, Hayes, who had seven points on the day, only managed to get his first field goal of the game early in the OT period.

But, take away Happ’s offensive numbers and this thing was U-G-L-Y for everyone else on the day. The rest of the team managed to shot a horrific 19 percent from the field (8-42) and they were just 3 of 25 from beyond the arc.

While the defensive effort was great, there’s no excuse for what the Badgers put out offensively in Madison Square Garden.

Up Next:

Wisconsin will travel to Champaign to take on Illinois on Jan. 31 with tip scheduled for 8p.m. CT. The game will be televised on BTN.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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