The Wisconsin-Xavier games over the last few seasons have been a good ones.
Wisconsin knocked Xavier out of the 2016 NCAA Tournament with a Bronson Koenig buzzer beater. Last season, the Musketeers defeated UW 80-70 at the Kohl Center.
Tonight the Badgers and Musketeers kicked off the Gavitt Tip Off Games. The Badgers came away with a relatively convincing 77-68 victory over Xavier, ending Xavier’s 41-game home winning streak against non-conference teams.
The Badgers got huge performances from sophomore Brad Davison, sophomore D’Mitrik Trice and senior Ethan Happ who combined to score 71 of UW’s 77 points, including a game high 30 points from Happ.
Happ, coming off a triple-double against Coppin State in the opener last week, notched a double-double tonight with the 30 points, 12 rebounds to go along with five assists. Happ was 15-for-23 from the field in the game, including 9-for-11 in the second half.
“I don’t think there’s a more multi-demensional player in the country,” UW head coach Greg Gard said during his postgame interview on FS1. “We took advantage of his skill set.”
Coming off a career-high 21 points in the season opener against Coppin State last week, Trice surpassed that with 22 points tonight on 7-11 shooting, while being a perfect 5-5 from 3-point range.
UW shot an even 50 percent (31-62) from the field as a team, while going 9-16 from three.
“The ball went in, that’s the biggest thing,” Gard said.
Holding Xavier scoreless for 6:21, Wisconsin led by as many as 11 points in the first half. However, the Musketeers wouldn’t go away as they closed the first half on a 12-4 run to pull within 30-28 at halftime.
The Badgers led for 18:33 in the first half but couldn’t sustain any separation with XU starters Tyrique Jones and Paul Scruggs playing a combined 13 minutes due to foul trouble.
However, the Badgers came out of the halftime break on fire, making their first eight shots from the field. Wisconsin used a 16-2 run to take a 48-32 lead with 14:24 left following a dunk by Khalil Iverson.
However, the Badgers went scoreless for a little over three minutes while Xavier crawled back to cut it to 65-54 with 4:43 left.
However, Happ took over from there. The All-American made five of UW’s final six shots from the field to hold off Xavier.
The Musketeers had one last run, but Davison drilled a huge 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to give the Badgers a 72-60 lead with just over a minute to play.
The Badgers were just 6-13 (46.2%) from the free throw line, leaving some hope for Xavier. But Trice and freshman Kobe King nailed three of the final four free throws to put the game away.
“We’ve gotta finish this game out better, but this is a tough place to play. To get this one, this is a good start.”
Davison finished with a season high 19 points on 7-12 (58.3%) shooting, six rebounds, and three assists.
Xavier shot 27-59 (45.8%) from the field, but shot 5-24 (20.8%) from beyond the arc. Wisconsin held a 40-32 rebounding advantage and scored 40 points in the paint.
Naji Marshall had a team high 24 points for the Musketeers.
Wisconsin improved to 1-2 in the Gavitt Games that began in the 2016-17 season. UW also took a 4-3 all-time series lead against Xavier.
What was lacking most of last season was a consistent outside shooter, beyond Davison, to keep the defenses from collapsing around Ethan Happ. It would appear that D’Mitrik Trice is applying for that role. If Trice and others can provide a consistent perimeter threat, it will open all kinds of lanes for Happ.
Wisconsin basketball is back. Picked up a huge road win tonight. It’s only November, but this absolutely looks like an NCAA tournament-caliber team to me.
I like my Wisconsin teams to be underrated with a side of “nobody believes in us.”