Wisconsin’s super sophomore was the star in the second annual Big Ten Super Saturday, scoring a career-high 32 points to lead No.15 Wisconsin to a 61-54 overtime victory over Rutgers in Madison Square Garden.
“That was something special,” Happ said, referring to his ovation. “I had to savour the moment. It was kind of like a curtain call. Whenever you get a curtain call in MSG, you’re not going to pass it up.”
With starters Vitto Brown (0-for-8), Nigel Hayes (2-for-7) and Bronson Koenig (2-for-13) ineffective for most of the afternoon, Happ delivered in all three sessions by hitting a career-high 12 field goals (on 18 attempts) and going 8-for-16 from the line to keep the Badgers (18-3, 7-1 Big Ten) in first place in the Big Ten.
Wisconsin won despite shooting 33.3 percent (20-for-60) and 3-for-25 from 3-point range, choosing to get hot at just the right time. After making only nine field goals on its first 46 attempts, UW made 11 on its final 14 attempts.
“He bailed us out,” Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard said of Happ. “We had a hard time finding the basket. ‘Hard’ might be a nice word to use. I kept looking at the stat sheet saying I don’t know how it could get any worse.”
A lot of those makes came from Happ. With his team facing desperation trailing 41-32 with 3:22 remaining, Happ scored the game’s next six points and delivered a low-post bucket with two seconds remaining. UW went on a 13-4 run to send the game to overtime.
Once in overtime, Happ took over with seven points and a key block on Corey Sanders with 21 seconds left to keep the Badgers lead at five. Wisconsin iced the game from there, giving the Badgers their seventh straight win when playing an extra session.
“It means a lot for this team to come together through a really bad shooting night and come out on top,” Happ said.
Koenig had a part in getting the game to overtime. Despite going 2-for-10 from 3-point range, Koenig hit a critical 3-pointer with 32 seconds left to cut the deficit to 44-43. This season Koenig is 11-for-21 (52.4 percent) from beyond the arc in the final 5:00 and OT.
“You had to trust that eventually he was going to get the ball to go in,” Gard said. “He’s too good of a shooter, too good of a player.”
Sanders scored 15 points to lead Rutgers (12-10, 1-8), which was trying to beat a ranked opponent for the first time since knocking off No.4 Wisconsin two years ago 40 miles away in Piscataway, N.J.
That UW team didn’t have national player of the year Frank Kaminsky and had senior point guard Traevon Jackson break his foot in the second half. This year’s Wisconsin team just flat couldn’t shoot.
So even through Rutgers was 0-for-9 in its first 12 possessions of the second half, the Scarlet Knights scored buckets on its next four possessions to take a six-point lead with 9:28 remaining. Rutgers held that lead until Happ’s final basket of regulation.
Sanders hit a 3-pointer on the Rutgers’ first overtime possession but the Scarlet Knight couldn’t string together offense or slow Wisconsin down the stretch. Rutgers saw 19 turnovers turn into 17 UW points, missed three free throws in the final 1:45 of regulation and only got eight points off 10 offensive rebounds.
“The maturity of this group I think was evident,” Gard said. “They didn’t get rattled, they didn’t panic in the timeouts, didn’t panic in the huddles. I was trying to tell them jokes to loosen them up a little bit … Credit our guys for how they gutted it out defensively.”
“We were good enough defensively to be able to hang,” he added. “If it wasn’t for our defense, we never would have had a chance at the end.”
Continuing a recent trend of first-half shooting swoons, Wisconsin’s shot only 5-for-25, average .606 points per possession and went 1-for-12 from 3-point range.
Happ delivered 10 of Wisconsin’s first 13 points (he assisted on the three in didn’t) and did it with flash. He stepped in front of a Sanders’ pass and drew a foul on the fast break that led to two points, registered another steal with a coast-to-coast layup and executed a spin move that completely fooled Ibrahima Diallo that resulted in another easy two.
It was much tougher after that. Happ scored only one point the final 12:12 of the first half, and UW trailed 25-20 heading into the locker room.
After UW showed a glimmer of hope with a 9-2 run to take a modest two-point lead with 11:52 to go, the Badgers reverted back to their struggles. Throughout the 40 minutes of regulation, Wisconsin had field goal droughts of 13:51 and 7:19 but still found a way.
“They just kept battling,” Gard said. “They didn’t give in when absolutely nothing was going our way.”