Sophomore guard Brad Davison scored 16 points for UW (19-8 overall, 11-5 B1G), including a pair of clutch free throws in the final minute of the game. Senior Ethan Happ and Sophomore D’Mitrik Trice added 14 points apiece, while senior Khalil Iverson scored 11 points and made some huge plays to help UW avoid an upset.
The win helped Wisconsin improve to 6-2 in Big Ten road games and 9-5 overall away from the Kohl Center this season. It also kept the Badgers in sole possession of fifth place in the Big Ten standings, two games behind a three-way tie for first place entering the final two weeks of the regular season.
Eleven of UW’s first 15 Big Ten games were either one – or two – possession games going into the final five minutes. Two others were within three possessions.
Add another one to the list. The Badgers were actually trailing by two points when the 5-minute mark arrived in Evanston.
The tight games are wreaking havoc on fans’ nerves – and UW head coach Greg Gard’s hairline, he joked – but Davison had a different reaction to the most recent close game.
“It’s so much fun. I love it,” Davison said. “This is what I’ve always dreamed about, this is what I signed up for, what we all signed up for. You want to play in the best conference from top to bottom in the country, just because you get challenged each and every day.”
Northwestern’s senior Vic Law scored a game-high 24 points and senior center Dererk Pardon added 21 for the Wildcats (12-15, 3-13), which lost its eighth consecutive game.
The Wildcats haven’t been as good at finishing games as the Badgers, and it showed in this matchup.
“We just weren’t able to get over the hump,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “You’re not always worthy of winning. I thought tonight we were.”
The only times the Badgers have been able to coast to the finish line in Big Ten play this season were at Penn State in early January and against the Wildcats later in January, when Happ produced his second triple-double of the season in a 62-46 win at the Kohl Center.
This time, Northwestern made UW sweat it out.
UW used a 8-2 run that included six points from Happ to build a 53-46 lead with 7:54 remaining.
But the Wildcats answered with an 11-2 run, with Law doing all the scoring. He made three 3-pointers during the run, with the final one in that stretch giving Northwestern a 57-55 lead with 5:06 remaining.
But Khalil Iverson answered with some big plays of his own, converting two three-point plays in a span of four possessions. The second one broke a 60-all tie with 2:57 left.
“If you lose sight of him around the basket,” Collins said, “he makes you pay.”
After Pardon scored in traffic, Davison attempted an off-balance baseline jumper that danced around the rim before falling in to give UW a 65-62 lead with 1:56 remaining.
“That’s one of those where you say ‘No, no, no, great shot’,” Gard said. “He wants the ball in his hands, he’s fearless like that.”
Davison missed 3-pointers on consecutive possessions, and Law cut the Northwestern deficit to 65-64 by making two free throws with 15.1 seconds left.
But Davison was fouled on the ensuing possession and made two free throws with 8.9 seconds left to give the Badgers a three-point lead. After a timeout with 4 seconds left, Trice did a good job keeping the ball away from Law and Northwestern was forced to go to its Plan B.
Collins was OK with the look the Wildcats got – an attempt from Aaron Falzon from the right wing – but it missed and UW sophomore Nate Reuvers grabbed the rebound. Reuvers was fouled immediately and made two free throws with 0.4 seconds left to secure the road win.
It was exactly the dogfight the Badgers expected, and Davison believes they’re better for having gone through it. It’s Big Ten Basketball, where nothing is easy.
“Win or lose, you can learn from it and you improve from it,” Davison said. “At the end of the day, we’re all playing for March. This game got us better for March, for sure. You’ve got to find new ways to win every night.”