It wasn’t pretty at times for Wisconsin’s offense but the Badgers found ways to be effective. Despite shooting 29-for-66 (43.9 percent) from the field, Wisconsin struggled to get shots to fall in the first half as they shot 36.8 percent on 38 shot attempts. The only person who didn’t seem to struggle was redshirt freshman Ethan Happ, who provided the scoring punch with 11 points in the first half on 5-for-7 shooting from the field. After combining to score 12 points in the first two games, Happ was able to do his damage around the rim and finished with a career-high 17 points.
All five starters for Wisconsin scored in double figures, as Bronson Koenig also scored 17, Vitto Brown was third with 12, Nigel Hayes had 11 and Zak Showalter had 10. Wisconsin’s bench was only able to contribute 11 points with Alex Illikainen leading the way with five points. Charlie Thomas, Khalil Iverson and Aaron Moesch all had two points.
Wisconsin knew coming into the game they would have a chance to be able to rebound effectively. Not only did Wisconsin win the boards, 40-31, the Badgers consistently gave itself second chances by collecting 16 offensive rebounds. The only negative was Wisconsin converted those chances into 18 points. Wisconsin’s starting frontcourt was responsible for 10 of the team’s 16 offensive rebounds, with Happ leading the way with five.
After turning the basketball over 10 times against Siena, the Badgers lowered that number to six. Although six is a respectable number, there were a couple that could have been avoided. There was one instance where Koenig tried to find an open Thomas down low, but Thomas couldn’t handle the pass as he watched it go off his fingertips. North Dakota could only convert Wisconsin’s turnovers into seven points.
With Wisconsin’s offense struggling in the first half, the defense had to play well to make sure they could keep North Dakota at a distance and enter halftime with a 13-point lead. Wisconsin held North Dakota to 22 points over the first 20 minutes and limited them to 40.9 percent (9-22) from the field.
One of the best stretches was when Wisconsin up six at the 11:23 mark in the first half; the defense clamped down to hold the offense to three field goals in a 5:08 stretch, finishing the last part of the first half 5-for-13 from the field. In particular, Wisconsin’s defense was able to force seven of North Dakota’s 17 turnovers over the last 11 minutes in the first. With Wisconsin closing the first half out strong on the defensive end, it allowed them to go on an 18-11 run.
North Dakota did finish the game shooting 48 percent (24-for-50) from the field with three players in double figures. Geno Crandall led the way with 19 points off the bench, including a perfect 6-for-6 from 3-point range, and Drick Bernstine was second with 15 points. Despite letting Crandall have success and consistently get open from the perimeter, Wisconsin held Quinton Hooker to 12 points on 4-for-12 shooting, as the defense made sure he could never create separation or allow him to drive the basket on a consistent basis.
North Dakota ended the game with five offensive rebounds and only eight points, as Wisconsin was able to either consistently box out or get after the loose ball.
Wisconsin continues to improve since the opener and even from half to half. After a poor shooting performance in the first half, they were able to bounce back nicely in the second and get some shots to fall in order to shoot 15-for-28 (53.6 percent) from the field.
One thing Wisconsin fans can be encouraged by is that Hayes has struggled to score since the season’s opening half, but Wisconsin has been able to find ways around his struggles. Outside of Koenig, it was Happ who was able to pick up the scoring slack. The successes have come against teams that struggled a season ago but it is still encouraging to see someone has been able to step up.
Hayes has overcome his shooting struggles by doing the small things well. In particular tonight he was able to consistently find ways of distributing the ball to his teammates and finished with a team-high and career-high seven assists. The ability of Hayes to pass the ball, combined with him still being a threat to score, opens up other opportunities for his teammates.
Staying aggressive in attacking the hoop and taking advantage of the games being called tighter allowed Wisconsin to consistently get to the free throw line. Despite drawing 23 personal fouls and getting to the free throw line 22 times, Wisconsin could only knock down 14 free throws. Showalter and Thomas each got to the free throw line five times but Showalter went 5-for-5 and Thomas only 2-for-5.
Wisconsin was outscored, 30-28, in the paint but missed numerous opportunities to finish around the rim. It could have been due to the fatigue, playing their third game in five days, but there were plenty of mistakes that could have been avoided, such as fouls or turnovers.
Game MVP: Ethan Happ. Struggling to start the season, Happ put together a nice offensive performance that could have been even better had he not got into foul trouble in the second half. Finishing the game with 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting from the field, Happ led Wisconsin with seven rebounds (five on offense), had two assists and one block. It looked like Happ was comfortable on the court, something that didn’t seem to be the case at times through the first two games, and is a good performance to build off of heading into a challenging weekend in the 2K Classic.