Wisconsin coach Greg Gard didn’t need to be reminded that the No. 12 Badgers used a second-half rally for the third straight game to secure a victory.
Ethan Happ scored a game-high 20 points and D’Mitrik Trice added 14 as Wisconsin beat Rutgers 69-64 on Monday night in its Big Ten home opener.
“We’ve played good teams; look at the stretch we’ve been through,” Gard said of the Badgers, who bested then-No 14 Iowa on the road and NC State heading into the Rutgers game.
“It’s the Big Ten, it’s going to be rough and competitive, and probably, nationally, top to bottom, is as people have heard, one of the best leagues in the country, if not the best in terms of the depth.”
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Khalil Iverson energized Wisconsin (8-1, 2-0 Big Ten) in the second half with a jumper, a steal and layup on consecutive possessions, pulling the Badgers within a point at 31-30 with 19:18 remaining.
Nate Reuvers, a 6-foot-10 sophomore forward, gave Wisconsin its first lead of the game at 35-33 with a 3-pointer from the left wing with 18:05 left.
Reuvers finished with 10 points as the Badgers pieced together a 13-4 run to open the second half and never looked back.
Trice said the Badgers became more aggressive on the defensive end and took better care of the ball. Wisconsin had a season-low six turnovers, including one in the second half.
“It was super important to finally get some stops on defense, which turned into good defense,” Trice said. “When we start getting stops, that kind of is a momentum shift on offense. We can get the ball inside and we score a lot better.”
Happ, who scored 12 second-half points, shot 10 of 17 overall from the field.
Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said Happ, a preseason All-American, was a handful for the Scarlet Knights in the second half. He felt confident with his team’s two-day preparation, after losing at home to then-No. 9 Michigan State on Friday.
“Happ took over when he had to, he’s terrific and he’s a match-up problem,” Pikiell said. “They made some timely shots and we didn’t. We allowed some guard post-ups, too, which hurt us a great deal.
“They came out in the second half and got on a roll, and we needed some timely baskets to go in.”
Eugene Omoruyi scored 17 points and had eight rebounds for the Scarlet Knights (7-2, 0-2), who lost a second straight game to a ranked opponent. Geo Baker and Peter Kiss added 15 and 12 points, respectively, for Rutgers, which shot 13 of 32 in the second half.
The Scarlet Knights shot 53.8 percent from the field in the first, with Carter contributing 9 points on 4-of-7 shooting to push Rutgers to a 31-26 halftime lead at halftime.
Rutgers’ lead ballooned to nine points to 24-15 on a Caleb McConnell layup with 2 minutes, 28 seconds to go in the first half.
The Badgers’ 8-1 record is their best start to the season since 2014-15, when that squad bolted to a 15-1 record.
While Happ’s contributions are critical, Trice also is making a huge impact. The redshirt sophomore has shot 60 percent (30 of 50) from 3-point range through the Badgers’ first eight games.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights are good inside and from the perimeter. Sophomore Peter Kiss has a nice scoring touch and isn’t afraid to roam the perimeter to find a good shot.
Shaq Carter is confident under the basket – scoring nine first-half points in the paint.
Leading scorer Geo Baker, who averages 14.5 points per game, has good sense of his mid-range shooting ability.
Wisconsin: The Badgers overcame a second-half deficit for the third straight game.
The Badgers’ sluggish start against Rutgers included no first-half assists and 1-of-6 shooting from 3-point range.
Wisconsin plays intrastate rival Marquette on Saturday at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee.
Rutgers returns home to host Fordham in a non-conference game Saturday.
More AP college basketball: www.collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25