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Nate Reuvers leads the way as Wisconsin Badgers grind out 72-60 win over Illinois Fighting Illini

January 24, 2019

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Four years ago, when Frank Kaminsky departed the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team after a glorious final half of his career, Illinois fans had to find themselves breathing a sigh of relief.

Then Ethan Happ came along, another big man who helped extend the Fighting Illini’s misery. Now that the senior center is nearing the end of his brilliant run at UW, you wouldn’t blame Illinois fans for thinking they could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Enter Nate Reuvers, whose dominant performance in the Badgers’ 72-60 victory on Wednesday night was a big reason fans at the State Farm Center were headed for the doors well before the game even ended.

The sophomore forward posted his first career double-double, finishing with career highs in points (22) and rebounds (10), to help UW overcome major foul trouble and some sloppy play.

Reuvers’ breakout second season with the Badgers includes a recent surge in which he’s reached double figures in points seven times in a span of 11 games. That’s helped take some of the pressure off Happ and, as was the case Wednesday, allowed UW to not skip a beat even when its star player is on the bench.

“I’m just having fun out there,” Reuvers said. “Just letting the game come to me.”

Happ wasn’t on top of his game and finished with six of UW’s 17 turnovers. But he still contributed plenty to the win, producing nine points, nine rebounds and six assists.

Sophomore point guard D’Mitrik Trice added 16 points for the Badgers (13-6, 5-3 Big Ten), while senior forward Khalil Iverson had a season-high 12 points to go along with seven rebounds.

Iverson hadn’t scored the previous two games and was losing playing time to redshirt freshman wing Kobe King. But Iverson remained in the starting lineup and provided a spark during a first half in which the Badgers kept hurting themselves with self-inflicted wounds.

“I thought he was really locked in and engaged and active right from the start,” UW coach Greg Gard said. “Khalil did a great job of keeping us where we needed to be in the first half even though we were kicking the ball around way too much, he was making some positive plays happen.”

Freshman center Giorgi Bezhanishvili scored 20 points to lead Illinois (6-14, 1-7), which has lost 14 consecutive games to the Badgers. Illini’s two leading scorers, guards Trent Frazier and Ayo Dosunmu, combined for only 17 points after going 7 of 26 overall from the field and 1 of 10 from 3-point range.

UW was whistled for 10 fouls in the opening 6 minutes, 26 seconds of the second half. No. 11 came with 9:38 remaining, and it was a big one.

Illinois senior Aaron Jordan was initially called for a foul for holding Happ. After a video review, Happ was assessed a Flagrant 1 foul for a hook-and-hold, sending him to the bench with four fouls and 9:38 remaining in the game.

Jordan made both free throws to tie the game at 49, but Reuvers had a great stretch to spark a 9-0 run that gave UW some breathing room.

After scoring six points in a row for UW, Reuvers fed junior guard Brevin Pritzl for a 3-pointer that extended the Badgers’ lead to 58-50 with 7:05 remaining. He also drew a charge on Bezhanishvili during the run.

“He just played really, really big,” Trice said of Reuvers. “He came up big for us. Clutch shots, rebounds, knocking down free throws. It’s just something that he’s been working on. I think him gaining weight in the offseason really helped and paid off tonight in a big way. Just his motor and his activity around the basket really helped us tonight.”

The Illini pulled within six on a pair of free throws by Jordan, but they missed their next four attempts from the line. Meanwhile, Happ made two free throws with 4:35 left and Reuvers added two more with 3:59 left.

The dagger for UW was a 3-pointer by sophomore guard Brad Davison (10 points) late in the shot clock that gave the Badgers a 65-54 lead with 2:37 to play.

“We’ve just got each other’s backs,” Iverson said.

That’s the way Gard saw it, too. The thing that impressed him the most in a game that was anything but aesthetically pleasing was how the Badgers rallied around one another after the Flagrant 1 on Happ.

“They steadied the ship, kept things going in the right direction,” Gard said. “We’ve had that happen before where Ethan hasn’t been on the floor and other guys step up. I think that’s a mark of a team that’s developing and has other dimensions and other contributors to it.”