It wasn’t the prettiest send-off, but it’ll certainly do.
On the senior nights of Ethan Happ, Khalil Iverson and Charles Thomas IV, No. 21 Wisconsin (13-6 Big Ten, 21-9 overall) outpunched Iowa (10-9, 21-9) 65-45 to come one step closer to securing a double bye in the Big Ten championship.
At first, it appeared to be a classic Big Ten game of minimizing mistakes, which the Badgers managed to do a better job over the first 20 minutes.
In the first half, Iowa got themselves into foul trouble early, putting Wisconsin into the bonus withseven minutes and 55 seconds remaining in the period.
And while neither team shot the ball effectively in the first half, the Badgers gave themselves space from an unlikely source: the free throw line.
Despite shooting just 35.7 percent from the field in the first period, the Badgers went nine of 14 at the charity stripe, including a respectable five of eight from Happ — who didn’t make a field goal.
Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes shot a similarly bad 29.6 percent from the field, but failed to get to the line after gifting the Badgers the bonus.
That was largely the difference in the first half, and it was one that Wisconsin built on in the second, taking a 31-22 lead into the break.
Happ started strongly with seven points in the second period’s first five minutes, as he finally broke his field-goal drought and gave Wisconsin a 14-point lead, its largest of the game at that point.
He would end the game with a 21-point, 14-rebound double-double, a proper send-off for what has been a stellar Wisconsin career.
While Wisconsin surged, Iowa faltered.
Ranked at No. 24 just last week, the Hawkeyes were undisciplined with the ball, committing 15 turnovers and launching a number of ill-advised quick three-pointers, as the Badgers allowed their fewest points in a game this season. When Iowa’s defense gave in during the second period, they simply just didn’t have the offense to compensate, and proved unable to compete with a superior Wisconsin team.
By the final 10 minutes the game had morphed from a high-stakes conference battle to a pep rally for Wisconsin’s seniors, including Thomas, who entered the game with 10:31 remaining amid “We want Chuck” chants from the student section.
With the eighth-toughest schedule in the country the Badgers have played tough games this season, and have more lying ahead in March.
This — a respite from the slog of Big Ten play — wasn’t one of them.