Men's basketball

Coming off a loss, Badgers find confidence in blowout of Savannah State

Senior forward Ethan Happ scored his 2000th career point with six minutes left Tuesday night, but the Badgers couldn't find any other offense down the stretch in a loss.

Image By: Jon Yoon

After a dispiriting letdown in the spring, the Wisconsin men’s basketball team has spent the last two months on a redemption tour. Eager to prove that last year’s failures were merely an anomaly, they have begun their redemption tour with spirited performances against marquee opponents. 

Those hoping Savannah State would be a good matchup, however, were sorely disappointed. The Badgers’ growth and maturity were on display from the beginning as they took care of business with a facile 101-60 win at the Kohl Center, reaching the century mark for the first time since a 2013 game against North Dakota. 

Five players scored in double-digits for Wisconsin (2-0 Big Ten, 9-2 overall), as sophomore guard Brad Davison paced the team with 24 points and four steals following a scoreless effort against Marquette. Senior forward Ethan Happ added yet another double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds as he climbed into the top five in school history in scoring. Sophomore guard D’Mitrik Trice added 14 of his own and freshman Tai Strickland obliterated his previous career high, dropping 14 points, including 11 in the first half. Kobe King celebrated his first career start by contributing 10. The Badgers knocked down 16 threes overall, one shy of the school single-game mark.

In spite of the easy victory, the team stressed the learning opportunity for all. 

“Every game is an opportunity,” Davison said. “We just continue to focus on the little things, no matter the competition.” 

Head coach Greg Gard added, “You never stop learning until the last day you walk out of your locker room after your last game as a senior.”

Senior Khalil Iverson missed the game with a leg injury, providing King with the chance to start and assert himself.

“You never know when something like that is going to happen,” King said after the game, stressing the importance of being ready and “locked in.” 

Strickland logged a career high 17 minutes and knocked down shots immediately. He got a couple fortunate bounces, banking in two three-pointers in the first half. 

“It definitely helped me get a lot more comfortable,” Strickland said of his early minutes.

Following a deflating result in an instant classic against Marquette Saturday, Wisconsin demonstrated its superiority and legitimate long-term potential. The effort was more than enough against a stubborn yet overmatched opponent.

The Tigers (0-0 MEAC, 3-9 overall) dressed only eight players for the game, the tallest of whom stands 6’8”. They were physically dwarfed by the Badgers, and several players found themselves immediately mired in foul trouble. Their strategy of hoisting up three pointers at an astonishing rate undermined them in the end--they airballed their first two attempts--as they finished 11-39 from downtown. They came in on a four-game losing streak, having lost Tuesday to South Dakota State by an astounding 139-72. The Tigers have now given up 90 or more points in nine games, and 100 in five of them. 

The first-half tour de force was predictive of the final result. 

In a staggering display of skill, Wisconsin scored 69 points to set the school record for points in a half. It shot over 70 percent from the field in the first twenty minutes, with six different players scoring seven or more. The 11 threes tied a school record for most in a half. The Badgers scored on 29 of their 35 possessions, and gathered six offensive rebounds off of their ten misses. After a frigid performance from the free-throw line and from three-point range Saturday, they started the game six of seven from distance and made their first five from the line. 

The Badgers started the second period cold — only two-for-five — but not as cold as Savannah State, which went one-for-five, and zero-for-three from three. Wisconsin evidently eased off a little, running the shot clock down and making numerous passes before each shot. After the first-half explosion, their 32 second-half points seemed meager. Some fans began making their way to the exits after the media timeout with 11 minutes to go. 

The sole moment of excitement came as seldom-used guard Walt McGrory nailed a three-pointer with 21 seconds to go, eliciting a celebration from the remaining fans. The triple pushed UW over 100 for the first time since Frank Kaminsky’s iconic 43-point performance five years ago, and also marked the walk-on’s first points of the year. 

Summarizing the team’s performance thus far, Davison said, “We like where we are, but we’re definitely not satisfied. We know our record could be better...We wish we were 11-0, we think we could be, but 9-2 is not a bad place to be.”

Moving on from Savannah State with renewed confidence, the Badgers will now turn their focus to their academics, taking a nine-day break for exams. They’ll return to the Kohl Center Dec. 22 to take on Grambling State. Tip is at 11:00 am. 

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