Men's basketball

'Team win:' Wisconsin's grit, depth shine through under pressure against NC State

Sophomore guard Brad Davison scored 24 points in Wisconsin's losing effort to Western Kentucky.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

Tuesday night, the Wisconsin men’s basketball team faced a home test for the first time. To make matters more difficult, NC State (0-0 ACC, 6-1 overall) applied pressure throughout the game, daring the Badgers to make them pay. The Wolfpack seemed to have an answer for every Wisconsin run. It appeared the Badgers would succumb to the pressure.

On this occasion, however, they found an answer.

Senior forward Ethan Happ scored 19 points, sophomore guard D’Mitrik Trice scored 18 and fellow sophomore Brad Davison added 12 while drawing multiple key offensive fouls on NC State players down the stretch to help No. 22 Wisconsin (0-0 Big Ten, 6-1 overall) pull out a thrilling 79-75 victory at the Kohl Center.

Happ struggled in the first half, shooting three-for-11 and finishing with a minus-10 rating, continuing a pattern that has hampered the big man early in the year.

“That shouldn’t happen every game, where I struggle in the first half,” Happ said.

Fortunately, the Badgers also received help from several players who broke out in this contest. Aleem Ford scored 12 points, including four of seven from three-point range. Trevor Anderson came in to break the defensive pressure and contributed a vital five points in less than a minute in the second half. Happ called it a “team win.”

“It wasn’t relying on one or two guys,” the senior forward said. “I don’t know if that’s what it would have been like last year in a game like this.”

“They’ve shown they can win in different ways,” said head coach Greg Gard said. “That’s usually the sign of a good team.”

Markell Johnson, Torin Dorn and C.J. Bryce combined for 53 points for NC State, which suffered its first loss of the season.

“There’s a lot of disappointment that we lost, but there’s a lot of good things that I can take from this,” NC State head coach Kevin Keatts said.

Throughout the evening, the Wolfpack seemed destined to win. They went on huge runs at times and never let UW fully seize the momentum. Each time it appeared Wisconsin would storm back and take control, they found ways to score. They were able to force 10 first-half turnovers from UW, who shot 50 percent from three in the first 20 minutes but only 10-28 overall. NC State took a lead of 12 points early in the second half and won the rebounding battle. The Badgers led for less than one-tenth of the game and didn’t retake the lead until there was 2:20 left in the game. Even then, the Wolfpack quickly took it back.

The Badgers would not quit.

“We kept talking in the timeouts, just keep pushing, we’ll get over the hump,” Gard said.

“We knew that they were going to pressure full-court,” Trice said. “Once we slowed down and we started playing Wisconsin basketball, that’s when we started to cut the lead down.”

Asked about the second-half struggle, Davison said, “It was a gritty win. Things weren’t going our way. We just had to dig in and grind it out.”

The final sequence exemplified the team’s grit. Happ made one free throw with a little over a minute to go. D’Mitrik Trice hit a clutch jump shot with 24 seconds left. Davison then took a charge, and the outcome was sealed.

“Calls are one thing you can’t control,” Davison said. “But effort and being in the right place is something you can control.”

The Badgers begin Big Ten play on Friday at No. 14 Iowa at 7 p.m. before returning home to take on Rutgers Monday.

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