Wisconsin Badgers cruise into week off with 101-60 blowout win over Savannah State Tigers
After eight games in a span of 26 days against major conference opponents, the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball deserved something off the dessert tray.
That cupcake arrived Thursday night, and the No. 16 Badgers devoured it.
Sophomore guard Brad Davison finished with a season-high 24 points, senior center Ethan Happ posted his 40th career double-double and UW rolled to a 101-60 victory over Savannah State at the Kohl Center.
The easy win was sandwiched between an overtime loss at Marquette days earlier and the start of final exams. In other words, it was exactly what the Badgers (9-2) needed.
“Every game is an opportunity to play, it doesn’t matter what (opponent) it is,” said Davison, who added five assists, four rebounds and four steals against the Tigers. “We’re focused on ourselves, trying to get better every game. …
“But definitely, we have been through a little bit of a grind stretch. We have a good break off now for a little bit just to let our legs recover, heal up and get ready to go for the rest of non-conference play.”
After going 10 of 21 from the free throw line and 5 of 24 from 3-point range in the loss to Marquette, the Badgers feasted on one of the worst defensive teams in the nation.
UW shot 47.1 percent from 3-point range while connecting 16 times from beyond the arc, one off the school record. It went 11 of 14 from the free throw line and shot 56.1 percent overall from the field.
Happ needed only 28 minutes of action to produce 18 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.
Sophomore point guard D’Mitrik Trice added 14 points and, more importantly, so did his backup. Tai Strickland had scored five points through his first seven games at UW, but the freshman point guard got in the game early and had three 3-pointers and 12 points by halftime.
“When he’s confident and aggressive, he’s a big-time player,” Davison said of Strickland, who added six assists. “He’s going to help us a lot this year.”
These games sandwiched around finals – UW returns to action vs. Grambling State on Dec. 22 – are perfect opportunities for Strickland to get some experience. He had played in short stretches for a total of 17 minutes prior to Thursday, when he was on the floor for 16 minutes against the Tigers.
“It definitely helped me get a lot more comfortable,” Strickland said. “It’s different from practice, where it’s a closed gym, there’s no one really in there, and you step out onto the court (in games) and you’ve got cameras on you, all of that.
“It’s definitely a comfort factor, and these next couple games (should) just get my confidence up, get myself in a rhythm and even to get experience with the guys on the team that play big minutes.”
Freshman wing Kobe King made his first career start in place of injured senior forward Khalil Iverson and finished with 10 points. Iverson has a lower left leg injury and was wearing a protective boot Thursday.
“I expect him back. When? We haven’t moved that far down the road yet,” UW coach Greg Gard said. “I would expect it would be sooner than later, but I don’t have a definitive day. All signs point (to) he’s going to be fine.”
Jaquan Dotson scored 20 points to lead Savannah State (3-9), which was coming off a 67-point loss at South Dakota State two days earlier.
UW set a program record for points in a half while racing to a 69-32 halftime lead, topping the previous mark of 67 against Iowa in 1988.
The Badgers averaged 1.92 points per possession over the opening 20 minutes while shooting 70.6 percent overall, 68.8 percent from 3-point range (11 of 16) and 83.3 percent (10 of 12) from the free throw line.
Davison, who came into the game in a shooting slump, had 19 points by the break. He went 5 of 6 from 3-point range in the first half after going 5 of 24 from beyond the arc in his previous eight games.
“He’s such a competitive person that he thinks he should make every shot, all the time. When he was a quarterback in football, he should never throw an incomplete pass,” Gard said of Davison, who was held scoreless against Marquette and missed three free throws in the second half of that game. “He’s competitive and holds himself to that type of standard. Saturday didn’t sit very well with everybody, but specifically with him.”
UW’s big first half put it well on pace to top the program records for points in a game (120 vs. SMU in 1967) and largest margin of victory (58 vs. Gardner-Webb in 2006). Neither record went down, in part because the Badgers came back to earth from the perimeter in the second half.
“We did a good job of guarding against making it become sloppy,” Gard said. “We stayed, for the most part, true to who we are and how we have to play going forward against stiffer competition.”