Khalil Iverson offered a reminder to future University of Wisconsin men’s basketball opponents that paying too much attention to teammate Ethan Happ comes with some risks.
“If teams are going to focus on Ethan and double-team him all the time, then the rest of us just have to make plays,” Iverson said after scoring a career-high 17 points to help the Badgers coast to an 89-61 win over Yale on Sunday night at the Kohl Center.
“I think we’ve been doing that so far, so they can keep doing it if they want.”
Iverson, a junior forward, went 8 of 9 from the field and made his only free throw attempt to top the 16 points he scored in a win at Marquette last season.
Sophomore point guard D’Mitrik Trice added 14 points for the Badgers (2-0), while junior forward Andy Van Vliet had 13. Happ, despite the extra body sent his way in the post and a left leg injury he sustained late in the first half, still managed to finish with 12 points and 11 rebounds for his second double-double in as many games.
All eight of Iverson’s field goals came in the paint, helping UW pile up 46 points in that area. Two baskets came in transition and two others were putbacks of missed 3-pointers by his teammates.
Iverson’s best play came in the first half when he caught the ball on the perimeter, used a ball fake to clear an open path to the rim and finished a drive with a one-handed dunk over Yale’s Blake Reynolds.
By halftime, Iverson had 13 points and the Badgers had a 21-point cushion. This came two nights after Iverson didn’t attempt a shot and committed four turnovers in a win over South Carolina State.
Iverson didn’t look like himself in the opener – for good reason. Last week marked the three-year anniversary of the death of his father, Kevin Sr., who suffered a heart attack just a few weeks before his youngest son started his senior season of high school basketball in Delaware, Ohio.
“It bothers me a lot,” Iverson said. “I try not to think about it, but it still happens.”
UW coach Greg Gard said he could tell Iverson was distracted in the opener.
“Rightfully so,” said Gard, whose father Glen died two years ago of a rare form of brain cancer. “I know that’s a very difficult time having gone through it myself, and I’m 20-plus years older than him.”
But it was clear to Gard that Iverson was locked in against Yale. “I thought he was really energized from the start,” Gard said.
On both ends of the court, in fact. Iverson served as the primary defender on Yale’s Miye Oni, helping the Badgers hold the 6-foot-7 sophomore guard to nine points on 3-of-10 shooting.
“Terrific job,” Gard said of Iverson. “I thought he really accepted the challenge.”
Reynolds led the Bulldogs with 14 points. Already down two starters because of injury, Yale had multiple players in foul trouble in the first half.
The Bulldogs ended up committing 26 fouls in the game, with UW taking advantage by going 20 of 26 from the free throw line.
“No one’s feeling sorry for us,” Jones said. “It wasn’t like the guys from Wisconsin said, ‘Oh, poor Yale, they don’t have two starters, let’s take it easy on them.’ We have to come out and play.”
Jones figured the best way to defend UW was to try to get the ball out of Happ’s hands. Happ forced a pass out of a double-team on the second possession of the game, resulting in an easy look on the other end for the Bulldogs, but that was one of only seven turnovers for UW in 71 possessions.
“We were trying to double Happ and get the ball out of his hands because he’s really good around the basket and he’s crafty,” Jones said. “I wanted to try to keep my guys out of foul trouble and that obviously led to opportunities for other guys. Iverson was one of those guys who was the recipient of some of those plays.”
Iverson wasn’t the only one, though. Gard thought his team did a good job of sharing the ball, and there were stretches where Yale looked helpless against the Badgers’ offense.
UW scored on nine consecutive possessions at one point in the first half, but it was the variety during that stretch that really stood out. Seven players scored for the Badgers, including 3-pointers from Van Vliet, Trice and freshman guard Brad Davison.
Iverson’s dunk came during that surge, as did a post-up move by sophomore guard Brevin Pritzl.
It offered a snapshot of the versatility UW could have on offense this season, though much more difficult tests are on the horizon: The Badgers host No. 17 Xavier on Thursday.
“I’m a big fan of the way we’ve been playing,” Happ said. “Going into the season, there was a lot of people saying, ‘Who’s going to step up this year?’ I’m just very happy to say that it’s a lot of different guys.”