The No. 22 University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team (18-8, 10-5 Big Ten) defeated the Illinois Fighting Illini (10-16, 6-9) 64–58 Monday night at the Kohl Center. In what proved to be a poor shooting night for the Badgers, the team ground out a win thanks to a strong closing effort.
The Badgers trailed early, after shooting just 2-for-15, including 0-for-6 from three at the 12:30 mark of the first half. Things didn’t get much better, as Wisconsin finished the first half just 9 of 28 and 2 of 10 from three. The Badgers’ defense, on the other hand, held their own against a high-paced Illini offense, forcing them to just 9-for-26 shooting and 3-for-11 from beyond the arc.
But the Badgers shot nearly 50 percent (13-for-27) from the field in the second half, enough to give them a late lead that they would hold onto for a much-needed victory.
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Top performers for the Badgers included sophomore Brad Davison, who finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and three assists, as well as senior Khalil Iverson, who had a season-high 16 points to go along with nine rebounds.
As both Head Coach Greg Gard and his teammates would attest to after the game, Iverson was the spark plug for Wisconsin’s win.
“He kept possessions alive and was really active on the glass. When he was able to attack the basket and the space was there to do it he did it pretty effectively,” Gard said. “He also did some big things defensively to help.”
The usually high-scoring duo of Ethan Happ and D’Mitrik Trice were all but absent, totaling just 13 points on 5 of 16 combined shooting. Happ was benched for the final four minutes after going 0-for-3 at the free throw line, extending his missed free throw streak to 11, stretching back to the Badgers win over Minnesota two weeks ago.
When asked as to why he benched the team’s star player, Gard cited concerns with Happ’s ball security.
“It was the turnovers,” Gard said. “Just wanted better decisions made, and that’s what we were able to get.”
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Happ was pressured often by the Illini defense, resulting in many uncomfortable situations where he either held onto the ball for too long or forced an errant pass. Happ finished with three turnovers.
The Fighting Illini were led by freshman Ayo Dosunmu, who had 13 points on 4 of 15 shooting. Senior Aaron Jordan and freshman Giorgi Bezhanishvili added 12 and 10 points, respectively, for the Illini.
The win snapped the Badgers’ two-game skid after losses to Michigan and Michigan State, while Illinois’ win streak ended at four. The Badgers also managed to win at least ten home games for the 21st consecutive season, dating back to 1997-98 when Wisconsin was still coached by Dick Bennett and played their home games at the Wisconsin Field House.
Looking ahead, the Badgers will take on the Northwestern Wildcats in Evanston, Illinois Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The Badgers beat the Wildcats in their previous matchup, 62–46, at the Kohl Center Jan. 26. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network and broadcasted on the Badger Radio Network. Wisconsin’s next home game will be Saturday, March 2 against Penn State.