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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Monday / December 18.
  • Ethan Happ’s All-American Showing Propels Wisconsin to Comeback Win Over Rutgers

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    By MIKE McCURRY

    NEW YORK — Three minutes and 21 seconds was all that separated Rutgers on Saturday from securing its first win in 26 tries in Big Ten contests away from the Louis Brown Athletic Center, better known as the RAC.

    A pair of free throws by 7-footer CJ Gettys extended the Scarlet Knights’ lead to nine, their largest of the game.

    Factoring in Wisconsin’s offensive ineptitude to that point and the hyperbolic lid on the rim all afternoon for both teams, a nine-point margin felt more like 20.

    It was then that a series of unfortunate events happened (no pun intended) from a Rutgers’ perspective.

    RU missed four of six free throws; four of five field goals; and, just for good measure, committed two turnovers over that final 3:21.

    The Badgers, meantime, began refeeding Ethan Happ.

    “We just do what Wisconsin does,” said Bronson Koenig. “Get it in the post.”

    At that juncture, Wisconsin had made 9-of-46 shots from the floor (20 percent)—again, in almost 37 minutes—with 32 points to show for it.

    Over the ensuing eight-plus minutes—thru the end of regulation, in which the Badgers mounted a furious comeback to force overtime, and including the extra session—UW made 11-of-14 shots and tallied 29 points.

    Happ outscored Rutgers by himself, 15-13, during that stretch.

    The 6-foot-10 sophomore finished with a career-high 32 points, not to mention 6 rebounds, 4 steals, and 3 assists, putting the No. 15 Badgers on his back en route to a 61-54 overtime victory over Rutgers at Madison Square Garden.

    Following an All-American level display, Happ conducted on-court postgame interviews before strolling over to the Wisconsin contingent to bask in glory with fans at the World’s Most Famous Arena.

    “That was something special, and I just savor the moment,” Happ said. “It was kind of like a curtain call, and whenever you get a curtain call at MSG I’m not going to pass it up.”

    Happ was locked in from the opening tip, scoring Wisconsin’s first eight points, before the Badgers got away from playing inside-out.

    The results were an eyesore. Koenig, UW’s leading scorer, shot 2-of-13 from the field, not connecting on a basket until the 15:49 mark of the second half. Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year Nigel Hayes scored five of his seven points in overtime.

    Saturday wasn’t the Badgers’ first chilly shooting night, though. A starting five composed of four seniors and a redshirt sophomore has encountered just about every trial and tribulation somewhere along the journey.

    Head coach Greg Gard counted on that experience factor to extend to the scoreboard.

    “The maturity of this group was evident,” said Gard, who attempted to tell jokes to loosen his players up. “They didn’t get rattled, didn’t panic in the timeouts, didn’t panic in the huddles.”

    They also weren’t jarred when, on the final possession of regulation and facing a two-point deficit, Koenig—the first option on the out-of-bounds play—was denied.

    “At that point, there was probably six seconds left on the clock, so you just got to make a play,” said Happ. “I went to the hoop, and credit [associate head coach Lamont Paris] for always getting on me to pump fake—I pump faked, and I made the layup.”

    Sounds simple really, and for Happ, it was: He scored 32 points on 12-of-18 shooting. His teammates combined for 29 points on 8-of-42 shooting (19 percent).

    “He just gets great low-post position,” said Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell of Happ. “He’s relentless…Angles, got great hands, finishes around the basket.”

    Happ’s performance vaulted him to No. 3 on the 2017 kenpom.com Player of the Year standings, trailing only Villanova’s Josh Hart and fellow Big Ten forward Caleb Swanigan of Purdue.

    Odds are, Happ is much more focused on Wisconsin having won 14 of its last 15 games since getting roughed up by North Carolina in the Maui Invitational final back on Thanksgiving Eve.

    Still, when the Milan, Illinois native resembles a man amongst boys while making scoring look easy in an otherwise offensive struggle, it warrants a conversation as to why Happ isn’t being talked about more as a veritable First-Team All-American candidate.

    Photo: @BadgerMBB

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