Happ scores 30 as Wisconsin pulls away from Xavier 77-68
CINCINNATI — Ethan Happ flipped in a one-handed shot, and then drove past a defender for a dunk. With the game at a turning point, the 6-foot-10 forward did whatever he wanted and put Wisconsin in control.
Happ followed his triple-double in Wisconsin’s opener with another dominant performance Tuesday night, getting 30 points and 13 rebounds as the Badgers pulled away to a 77-68 victory over Xavier in the Gavitt Tipoff Games.
Wisconsin (2-0) opened the second half with an 18-4 run led by Happ , who drove inside for four baskets that set the tone. Xavier didn’t get closer than six points the rest of the way, snapping its streak of 41 straight nonconference victories at the Cintas Center.
“We just knew that we were capable of hitting shots and I was capable of finishing around the rim,” Happ said. “A lot of that didn’t go for us in the first half, but we knew if we stayed the course we’d end up on top.”
Xavier (2-1) hadn’t lost a nonconference game on its home court since a 56-55 defeat against Wofford on Dec. 22, 2012.
It was the third time the teams have played in the last four seasons. The Badgers upset the Musketeers 66-63 in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. Xavier won in Madison 80-70 last season.
Happ was coming off the second triple-double in Wisconsin history during an 85-63 win over Coppin State — 10 points, 11 rebounds, 12 assists. On Tuesday, he scored 18 in the second half as the Badgers blew open a close game .
“The key for us was to hold him down, and we did not do a great job of it,” Xavier forward Zach Hankins said. “We made him take a couple of tough shots, but he had a good night.”
D’Mitrik Trice added a career-high 22 points, making all five of his shots from beyond the arc.
Naji Marshall had a career-high 24 points and 13 rebounds for Xavier. Point guard Quentin Goodin played his second game since returning from a left shoulder injury during practice last month and scored 13 points, favoring the arm at times.
In its opening wins over IUPUI and Evansville, Xavier blew big leads with defensive lapses. The one at the start at the second half on Tuesday led to its first loss.
“We just lost focus on the defensive end, lost our intensity,” Marshall said. “That’s kind of been our deal since the season started. We’ve got to lock in and play the whole game.”
Wisconsin: Trice missed the last 23 games last season with a foot injury and has made a big impact in his return. He scored 21 points against Coppin State, going 5 of 9 from beyond the arc. Trice three early 3s helped the Badgers get comfortable on the road.
“He’s pushing the pace when it needs to be pushed,” coach Greg Gard said. “Having his energy back is helping this team.”
Xavier: Perimeter defense was the Musketeers’ focus after they allowed Evansville to hit 17 3-pointers during their 91-85 win last Wednesday, the most 3s allowed by a Xavier team. Wisconsin made only four 3s in the first half, and the Badgers took the ball inside to take control in the second half.
Xavier lost five of its top seven scorers from the team that won the Big East title last season. Wisconsin returned players that accounted for 95 percent of its points last season. The difference showed.
“Having these guys back, all those experiences we had last year — all those help in big ways, in little ways, in invisible ways,” Gard said. “There’s more chemistry and synergy with this group.”
Big Ten loves the Queen City
Wisconsin is the second Big Ten team to win in Cincinnati in the last seven days. Ohio State opened Cincinnati’s renovated arena by beating the Bearcats 64-56 on Wednesday.
Trice loves the Queen City
It was a gratifying visit for Trice, who grew up in nearby Huber Heights, Ohio.
“This means everything,” said Trice, who had more than two dozen relatives and friends in the stands. “Coming back to Ohio, an hour away from where I’m from — it’s just amazing.”
Long and winding road
Wisconsin plays seven games away from home before New Year’s Day for the first time since the 2001-02 season. The Badgers are 63-35 away from home over last five seasons.
Wisconsin hosts Southern Baptist on Saturday.
Xavier plays Auburn on Monday at the Maui Invitational.