Wisconsin Badgers tap into ‘sense of urgency’ en route to 71-52 victory over Penn State Nittany Lions
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Brad Davison used a three-word phrase multiple times Sunday night to describe the driving force behind an easy road win for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team.
“Sense of urgency,” he said.
That determination that had been lacking in the No. 22 Badgers at times during a two-game losing skid was there from the opening tip until the final buzzer at Bryce Jordan Center. The result was a 71-52 victory over Penn State that UW hopes will get it back on track heading into a key stretch in Big Ten Conference play.
Senior center Ethan Happ overcame a slow start and finished with 22 points to help the Badgers (11-4, 3-1 Big Ten) rebound from a home loss to Minnesota on Thursday night. Davison added 14 points, while sophomore forward Nate Reuvers had 11 points and five blocks to help UW beat the Nittany Lions for the 11th consecutive time.
“We came out early in the first (half) with a great sense of urgency,” Davison said. “That’s a carryover from practice. That was our mind-set coming into practice, coming into the weight room, coming into everything we did following that Minnesota loss and we had to hold each other accountable for having that sense of urgency right from the start and playing 40 minutes.”
After going a combined 11 of 43 from 3-point range in back-to-back losses to Western Kentucky and Minnesota, the Badgers went 8 of 16 against Penn State. Davison was 3 of 3, and junior guard Brevin Pritzl made both of his attempts.
Pritzl was part of a solid showing from the bench, which contributed 19 points. Senior forward Charlie Thomas scored seven points in 10 minutes, while redshirt freshman wing Kobe King added four points and a pair of steals.
Not to be lost in the win were the contributions of senior forward Khalil Iverson, who didn’t attempt a shot but found other ways to provide a spark. He had six rebounds, three assists, two steals and was a big key to UW’s terrific effort on defense.
“Everyone gave us a boost that was in there,” UW coach Greg Gard said.
Junior forward Lamar Stevens scored 22 points to lead Penn State (7-8, 0-4), which is now 2-24 against the Badgers since the start of the 2004-05 season. The Nittany Lions were being coached by associate head coach Keith Urgo, who was subbing for the suspended Patrick Chambers.
Penn State looked out of sorts for large chunks of the game, but Urgo refused to blame the issues on Chambers’ absence.
“Coach Chambers and his preparation the last few days with us was about as good as it could possibly be,” Urgo said. “Believe it or not, it was business as usual.”
Chambers, banned one game for shoving freshman guard Myles Dread during a loss at Michigan last Thursday, couldn’t have been happy wherever he was watching the loss to the Badgers.
Penn State turned the ball over 10 times in its first 20 possessions of the game. Some of that was on the Nittany Lions, but the Badgers also did a good job of getting their hands in passing lanes and blocking paths to the basket.
Reuvers took two charges, while sophomore point guard D’Mitrik Trice also drew one.
“I thought defensively we did a really good job for the most part, very few mistakes that were made, and really collectively were together,” Gard said after Penn State shot 37.7 percent from the field and averaged 0.83 points per possession. “We covered for each other really well and when there were breakdowns, we rotated, we took charges, we plugged gaps up.
“And obviously it helps when you make shots. It goes without saying, that inspires and infiltrates through your whole game on both ends of the floor.”
One positive development for the Badgers was how they built a comfortable lead despite Happ struggling mightily to convert around the rim.
At one point, UW was leading 24-13 even though Happ had missed eight of his first 10 attempts from the field.
“Last year, I kind of felt a little bit like if I wasn’t at the top of my game, then it’d be tough for us to come out with a win,” Happ said. “I was playing terribly (Sunday) and we were still building a lead, and that’s just a credit to the guys around me for taking a big step from last year to this year.”
Happ finally got going and scored eight points during a 16-2 run to start the second half. That burst helped the Badgers extend their lead to 49-25, their biggest cushion of the game.
UW has now won its last seven games in State College, but the previous six were decided by an average of 4.8 points. A year ago, Happ and Co. had to hold on for a 64-63 victory here despite leading by 17 points in the second half and by 14 with under 5 minutes to play.
Perhaps mindful of that, the Badgers did a better job of closing out the game this time around vs. the Nittany Lions.
“Coming in, I didn’t think that it would be this margin of victory just because of the past,” Happ said. “We’ve come in here with some really good teams and every time it seems to be a fistfight, a dogfight with them. Once we got that separation, it was nice we were able to hold on to that.”