After a first half that featured hordes of missed jumpers and a stagnant offense, the No. 22 Badgers (10-5 Big Ten, 18-8 overall) entered the second half with basketball’s most efficient shot.
A buzzer-beating Khalil Iverson putback dunk brought Wisconsin within one of Illinois (6-9 Big Ten, 10-16), laying the foundation for a second-half turnaround at the Kohl Center that led to a 64-58 win.
The jam was a sign of things to come for the senior, who finished the game with a season-high 16 points while often running Wisconsin’s offense and flashing his athleticism around the rim. The senior has enjoyed playing against the Fighting Illini this season, as he also scored 12 in Champaign the last time the two teams met.
Despite a slow start, the end result was no different in this game.
The Badgers left lots of room for improvement in the game’s first 20 minutes, where Illinois routinely collapsed two men on senior forward Ethan Happ and forced Wisconsin’s shooters to make open looks.
They largely failed to do so, as sophomore guard D’Mitrik Trice went zero of five from the field, and Happ’s teammates combined to go just two of 10 from three-point range in a half where Wisconsin never led. In fact, the Badgers could’ve been staring down a larger deficit had Illinois not put them in the bonus early and shot poorly themselves.
The Badgers quickly erased two of those trends on the first possession of the half, as Trice nailed his first three-pointer, and field goal, of the game to give Wisconsin its first lead of the contest.
While Illinois retook the lead again afterwards, the Badgers shot the ball far better than in the second half, hitting eight of their first 16 shots to build a six-point lead.
The Fighting Illini hung around for quite a while, and tied the game with four minutes and six seconds remaining after Iverson had drilled four straight free throws right before.
Once again, Iverson came up big.
After Brad Davison nailed a jumper to give the Badgers a two-point lead, Iverson swatted a layup from Illinois’ Giorgi Bezhanishvili and Davison was off to the races for an easy layup.
The Badgers had re-extended their lead to four, and they didn’t look back.
Iverson led the Badgers with six free throws made and finished as the team’s second-leading rebounder with eight — both elements were instrumental in Wisconsin’s victory.
The Badgers outrebounded Illinois 39-32, leading to 15 second-chance points on a difficult scoring night.
They also made 15 free throws on the night, their second-highest in a conference game this season.
Ultimately, those finer details led to their 18th win of the season.