It all really could have gone wrong for the Wisconsin Badgers on Wednesday evening inside the State Farm Center.
Turnovers reared their ugly heads early on—and well, throughout the game—while foul trouble in the second half forced an All-American on the bench for a critical five-minute period. Some called it a trap game, and for times, it certainly appeared that way.
With the emergence of sophomore forward Nate Reuvers once again stepping up in a career game and four starters in double digits not named Ethan Happ, however, Wisconsin held off and escaped Champaign with a 72-60 victory over Illinois.
With that, here are some takeaways from Wednesday evening’s win, starting with the second-year player’s impressive performance.
Nate Reuvers is becoming a force for this team on both ends of the court
Just over a week ago, Reuvers notched his career-high in points scored (18) against Maryland. He showed that he could make his presence felt and be a dominant factor, even with Happ on the bench in foul trouble against Bruno Fernando and the Terps.
On Wednesday against the Illini, he broke that scoring mark by recording 22 points while also grabbing a career-high 10 rebounds—his first double-double of his collegiate career.
He shot 7-of-11 from the field, connecting on two of three from three-point range and nailed all six of his free throws.
Wisconsin could have collapsed in both road games. Thanks to Reuvers, the Badgers did not.
In eight conference games, Reuvers has averaged 11.1 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, making 54.8 percent of his shots. That includes connecting on 40.7 percent of his three-point shots against Big Ten opponents. Nine of 19 contests this season, he has scored 10 or more points.
Defensively along with those 10 rebounds against the Illini, he also drew a key charge in the second half while also having one credited block.
His recent play bodes well not just for the future when Happ is gone next season, but also for the present during this 2018-19 conference season and postseason play.
Also: We agree, Brevin, we agree.
Khalil Iverson can still make an impact
After playing only nine minutes in the win over Michigan, the senior forward showed he can still influence the game in a significant fashion—scoring a season-high 12 points with also grabbing seven rebounds with two blocks and two steals against Illinois.
Nine of those 12 points came in the first half, and though he had two fouls against him in the first half, he finished with just three for the game overall. One thing that stood out with Iverson’s play when watching from my couch on Wednesday was the aggressiveness he displayed with grabbing rebounds.
Wisconsin actually out-rebounded Illinois 38-30 overall. He, Reuvers and Happ combined to grab 26 of those boards.
Giorgi Bezhanishvili is impressive
A tip of the cap here—and what a performance it was by the true freshman, who came into the game averaging 11 points and 5.1 rebounds per contest. He continued an impressive first year by scoring 20 points and eight rebounds against Wisconsin and really established himself as an inside presence.
Illinois has a pair of impressive freshmen with Bezhanishvili and Ayo Dosunmu, though the latter scored just eight points on 4-of-16 shooting (0-of-5 from three-point range).
Turnovers are bad
This is pretty self-explanatory, especially on the road, and Illinois forced opponents into 17.3 turnovers coming into Wednesday night’s contest. Wisconsin committed nine in the first half—quite a few in the first five minutes of the game—and 17 overall in the win.
First media timeout with Wisconsin/Illinois tied at 5-5 with 15:53 remaining in the first half.
The good: Badgers have made all of their shots, Illinois just 2 of 6
The bad: That’s only two and UW has committed 5 turnovers in first 4:07.
— Bucky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) January 24, 2019
Trice and Happ combined for 11 of those (five and six, respectively). It did not look pretty out there at times, but the team pulled together to pull off a double-digit win.