Another Second-Half Surge Keeps Wisconsin Winning

Another Second-Half Surge Keeps Wisconsin Winning

Basketball

Another Second-Half Surge Keeps Wisconsin Winning

MADISON, Wis. – The sample size is still relatively small, but the first month of the season has taught that the University of Wisconsin is a second half team.

That rang true again Monday night and once again it was a total team effort that made the difference.

From Khalil Iverson’s quick 4-0 run to start, another clutch 3-pointer from D’Mitrik Trice at the end and a whole lot of Ethan Happ in the middle, No.12 Wisconsin delivered a third straight second-half comeback to knock off Rutgers, 69-64, at the Kohl Center.

Happ was again instrumental, proving to be a big matchup problem with 20 points on 10-for-17 shooting. He had a season-low four rebounds but he dished out three assists and committed only two of UW’s six turnovers, both coming in the first seven possessions.

Trice (14 points), forward Nate Reuvers (10), guard Brevin Pritzl (9), and Iverson (5) filled in the rest for Wisconsin (8-1, 2-0 Big Ten), which has now outscored teams 376-294 in eight second halves this season.

Over the last six games – all against power conference teams – Wisconsin has outscored its opponents by an average of 10.7 points, averaging 41.2 points after halftime.

“We knew when we saw the schedule evolve through last spring and into the summer, this was going to be heck of a rough stretch we’re going to have to go through,” said head coach Greg Gard, referring to six games in 13 days (5-1). “You’re going to have to learn through the ebbs and flows. It’s not going to be as you want it all the time. It’s not going to be perfect. That’s the challenge of this time of the year, continue to try to get better when things don’t go well.”

Although shooting 48 percent in the first half, Wisconsin was sluggish in the opening half, making only two baskets in nearly 9:30 of game time and needing to make four of its final five shots heading into the locker room to trim a halftime deficit to 31-26.

Using the halftime to regroup, the hot shooting carried over after UW inbounded the ball to start the second half. Iverson, who was lauded by Gard for his all-around defense Monday, hit a jumper in the paint to cut the lead to three and then stole the ball from Eugene Omoruyi, leading to a coast-to-coast layup and a quick timeout from Rutgers.

“He’s strong, he’s athletic, he’s got some experience,” Gard said of Iverson. “He’s been in a lot of situations. He has a lot of possessions in practice, so you’d expect a senior that’s had the reps he’s had, the minutes he’s played to be pretty consistent on the defensive end.”

The break did nothing to slow Wisconsin, who started the half on an 11-4 run that eventually grew to 22-10. Reuvers scored five of his points during UW’s sluggish first half to keep UW within striking difference and his other five to help the Badgers take a lead in the opening minutes of the half that it never gave back.

“I was happy we were getting buckets as a team, but also that it’s always good to see guys get going who aren’t myself and (Trice),” Happ said. “For him to be able to score those post baskets early and I remember one three when I kicked it out to him and he knocked it down, that’s a huge momentum shift. It’s always great when other guys step up and step up in a big way.”

After finishing with no assists, five turnovers and 1-for-6 from 3-point range in the first half, UW had one turnover in 32 second-half possessions, six assists and went 4-for-8 from 3-point range.

UW looked it firm control after a Trice jump shot gave UW a 52-43 lead with 9:20 remaining, but the Badgers went scoreless for the next 3:39. Rutgers went 1-for-6 during that stretch, as the Badgers’ team defense held Rutgers to 40.6 percent in the second half after getting picked apart with ball screens and back cuts for easy buckets in the lane during the opening 20 minutes.

When Trice hit a 3-pointer with 56 seconds left, pushing the Wisconsin lead back to eight, the Scarlet Knights were vanquished.

“We really stepped up and really made it tough for them to get easy buckets, which turned into good offense,” Trice said.

Geo Baker had 17 points and Omoruyi had 15 points for Rutgers (5-3, 0-2), which fell to 0-3 in Big Ten games in Madison.

“This is a very good basketball team we played,” Rutgers head coach Steve Pickiell said. “We kind of hung around, but it’s a 40 minute game. Credit to Wisconsin. They’re good players. Happ took over when he had to. He’s terrific. He’s a match-up problem. They made some timely shots and we didn’t.”

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