Saying it was an ugly offensive game for Wisconsin doesn’t do it justice for how truly dreadful it was for the Badgers shooting the ball. After its worst offensive performance in a half this season, going 5-for-25 (a season-low for field goals in a half), Wisconsin shot 34.5 percent (10-for-29) over the last 20 minutes.
The only saving grace was, with Wisconsin down 41-32 with 3:22 to go, the Badgers put their offensive struggles to the side and finished regulation shooting 6-for-8 from the field and went 5-for-6 in overtime. That brought UW’s final shooting percentage to 33.3 percent (20-for-60) – a season-low.
Outside of Ethan Happ there weren’t many bright spots. The sophomore was responsible for scoring 32 of Wisconsin’s 61 points on 12-for-18 shooting from the field. It shouldn’t be surprising that Happ was responsible in generating the offense to overcome the nine-point deficit.
Happ registered the first six of Wisconsin’s final 13 points in regulation and assisted on Bronson Koenig’s 3-pointer that cut Rutgers lead to 44-43. Happ made plenty of plays on the offensive end but the biggest shot he made was the game-tying layup with two seconds to go in regulation.
Happ’s dominance down low allowed Wisconsin to finish with 32 points in the paint, 24 coming after halftime. UW also created offense from the free throw line. Wisconsin went the last 10:35 without a field goal in the first half (0-for-12) and missed its first six shots to begin the second half. The only points Wisconsin generated over that drought was from the free throw line, going 5-for-8. The Badgers shot 18-for-28 (64.3 percent) overall from the free throw line.
Happ’s production and the points from the line were critical since Wisconsin shot 3-for-25 (12 percent) from three. Koenig missed eight 3-pointers and Vitto Brown missed all five of his attempts and was scoreless on seven shots.
Without any consistent offense, the Badgers needed their defense to step up in order to stay within striking distance. After allowing Rutgers to shoot 43.4 percent from the field in the first half, the Badgers were able to provide what was needed to hold the Scarlet Knights to 9-for-31 (29.1 percent) the rest of the way.
Wisconsin did allow Rutgers to go on a couple of mini runs to give the Scarlet Knights a lead as big as seven points in the first half and nine in the second half. After Wisconsin took a 29-27 lead in the second, Rutgers went on a 14-3 run by shooting 6-for-13 from the field.
But like Wisconsin’s offense, the defense made the important plays when it needed to. Over the last 3:11 of regulation, Wisconsin held Rutgers to 1-for-5 from the field and saw the Scarlet Knight go 2-for-6 from the free throw line.
Overall Rutgers shot 19-for-54 (35.2 percent) from the field and 3-for-10 (30 percent) from three. Corey Sanders, who only scored four points in the first meeting, led Rutgers with 15 points on 6-for-17 shooting. Nigel Johnson added 13 points on 3-for-12 shooting.
Wisconsin helped force overtime by clamping down on Rutgers in the paint (24 points) and generating second-chance opportunities. The Scarlet Knights entered the game leading the Big Ten in offensive rebounds, but the Badgers held them to 10 offensive rebounds and only eight points on those opportunities.
In particular Wisconsin’s defense found ways to frustrated Rutgers and create 19 turnovers, giving its own struggling offense a boost with 17 points. Three different players for Wisconsin registered a steal, including Happ leading the roster with four.
Nothing came easy for Wisconsin, so grinding out a win against the last-place team in the Big Ten might raise some red flags. On the contrary, the Badgers should feel fortunate Rutgers was their opponent and they made enough plays to extend their winning streak to five.
Koenig hit a big three to cut Rutgers lead to one and hit four critical free throws to ice the game but the senior went 0-for-6 from the field in the first half and went 2-for-7 in the second half. Koenig’s first made field goal didn’t come until the 15:52 remained.
Like Koenig, Nigel Hayes only knocked down two field goals on seven attempts and had to wait until the overtime period to make his first field goal. Hayes scored four of his seven points in overtime but did lead the team with 11 rebounds, including tied for the team lead with three offensive rebounds. The Badgers lost the rebounding battle, 44-41, and could only turn 14 offensive rebounds into eight points.
Although Hayes was effective on the glass, he committed three turnovers to four assists. Hayes wasn’t the only starter to struggle with turnovers, as all five starters committed at least two turnovers. Wisconsin was fortunate that Rutgers could only turn UW’s 15 turnovers into eight points.
With UW’s starters struggling, the bench wasn’t able to provide much offense, with the reserves scoring only five points. Jordan Hill led the bench in minutes (23) and registered three points (1-for-3). D’Mitrik Trice failed to score for the first time all year (0-for-2) and Brevin Pritzl – who head coach Greg Gard inserted to try to spark things – missed the only shot he took from three in five minutes on the court.
Game MVP: Ethan Happ. The sophomore simply was phenomenal. After registering a career-high 28 points against Minnesota, it only took Happ a week to set a new career-high by hitting 66.7 percent of his shots (12-for-18). To put that in perspective, his teammates shot 8-for-42 (19.1 percent).
Like many teams that have played Wisconsin, Rutgers didn’t have an answer to stop Happ in the low post, even when they knew the ball was going to him. Outside of Happ’s dominance on the low block, he was able to assist in altering shots, as he was responsible for two of Wisconsin’s six blocks. The cherry on top of Happ’s performance came on Rutgers second-to-last offensive possession in overtime, using his size to go up and register a steal against Sanders to ice the game.