Ethan Happ knew the Badgers needed a change if they wanted to turn their season around.
Monday night at the Kohl Center, he would take up that call by himself, hitting his first career 3-pointer in the first half. But he went ice cold in the second half and UW (3-7 Big Ten, 10-13 overall) allowed Nebraska (8-4, 17-8) to sneak back into the game and steal a 74-63 win.
Happ was unbelievable in the first half against the Cornhuskers. He repeatedly found himself right at the rim on postups, sinking 5-of-9 shots in the paint and scoring 18 points, his most ever in a first half. He also handed out three assists, accounting for 26 of UW’s 32 total points in the period. No one else on the team scored more than three points before halftime.
Just over four minutes into the game when Happ found himself several feet away from the nearest defender at the top of the key, he hesitated, elevated and splashed home a jumper from beyond the arc. The Kohl Center went understandably berserk.
In typical Ethan Happ fashion, the redshirt junior forward hardly acknowledges this landmark moment, calmly turning around and jogging back on defense.
The second half opened with more of the same from head coach Greg Gard’s superstar, as Happ went right back to work with an easy layup in the first 30 seconds. It was then that he finally received some help from his teammates.
Redshirt sophomore guard Brevin Pritzl quickly nailed two 3-pointers in two minutes to extend UW’s lead to six. Happ and freshman forward Nate Reuvers took the reins and scored four straight points before Happ found the Badgers’ lone senior, forward Aaron Moesch on the left wing for his first career made three. That extended the lead to 10, their largest of the night to that point. And that’s when things started to fall apart.
A 10-0 run midway through the second half pulled the Huskers within one point at 56-57, as Happ couldn’t quite get in a rhythm in the paint and missed three shots and turned the ball over in the span of four possessions.
From there it was nearly all Nebraska, as James Palmer Jr. — who smoked the Badgers with 18 points in the first meeting — worked his way all the way up to 28 points.
UW left an astonishing number of points on the court, missing 15-of-31 free throw attempts en route to its 13th loss of the year. Much of the blame has to fall on the shoulders of Happ, who scored just seven points in the second half on 2-of-7 shooting and finished 8-of-19 from the free-throw line. He didn’t make a field goal in the last 14:22 of the game.
Once again, the Badgers find themselves walking away from a game that they had in their hands. They led by 11 with 9:59 to play on their home court, but were outscored by 22 points in the final 10 minutes and will be left with another sour taste in their mouth.