MADISON — Ethan Happ had a triple-double and D’Mitrik Trice scored 21 points as Wisconsin got an 85-63 win over Coppin State in the season opener for both teams Tuesday night.
Player of the Game: Happ
Coppin State coach Juan Dixon nailed it right on the head when he spoke with reporters after the game.
“Ethan Happ did what All-Americans do,” the second-year coach said.
Yes, he did. Happ picked up just the second triple-double in school history Tuesday night, scoring 10 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and dishing out 12 assists. But it was the way he clinched it that made it all the more sweet.
A 56.8-percent free throw shooter in his career, Happ swished a pair from the line to join former guard Josh Gasser as the only players to ever get a triple-double as Badgers.
“I wanted it on a jump shot or free throws,” Happ said. “It was definitely rewarding to get to the line and knock those ones down.”
If anyone was going to join Gasser in the triple-double club, it was going to be a guy like Happ. He’s going to go down as one of the more versatile players to ever suit up for Wisconsin and likely finish in the top-three in program history for scoring, rebounds and assists.
Still it’s rare to see someone of Happ’s size record the honor. In fact, only one player taller than the 6-foot-10 Happ had a triple-double in college basketball last season. That came courtesy of 7-footer Hayden Koval of Central Arkansas, who, according to NCAA stats, accomplished the feat with points, rebounds and blocks. Looking even further back, Happ is just the second player that stands 6-foot-10 or taller to get it with points, rebounds and assists since the start of the 2009-2010 season, joining Toledo’s Nathan Boothe in 2015.
“He’s just so multi-dimensional in his game. He can do a lot of things,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “I hope everybody appreciates the impact he has, because players like him are rare.”
The good: Trice
Playing in a real game for the first time in roughly 11 months, Trice showed no signs of rust. He hit four of his first five shots from beyond the arc on his way to scoring a career-high 21 points.
“It’s just about putting the ball in the rim and shooting with confidence,” Trice said. “That’s what I’m here to do.”
Trice was the beneficiary of all the attention on Happ. Four his seven makes on the night came off of assists by the senior center. Obviously, not every team is going to focus so intently on Happ and just challenge Wisconsin to shoot from the outside like Coppin State. But Trice showed, if they do, he’s ready to make them pay.
The not so good: Everyone played but one
A blowout allows a coach to play everyone on his bench and that’s exactly what Gard did. Well, almost everyone. The only one not to make it in the game was senior forward Alex Illikainen. It’s unclear what role, if any, Gard sees for Illikainen, who averaged 6.8 minutes over 26 games last season.
Stat of the game: 23 of 26
That’s what Wisconsin shot from the free throw line on the night. You don’t want to make too much out of one game, but the 88.5 percent conversion rate is better than in any game last season.
What they said:
“It just shows his character. That he was willing to give up that extra point when he’s getting doubled and find the open guy. [He takes] on two more assists when we’re trying to get him two more points. It just shows and speaks on his character and who he is as a person.”
— Trice on Happ passing the ball instead of looking to shoot when he was two points shy of the triple-double
In Case You Missed It:
— Freshman Tai Strickland made his debut, playing three minutes and scoring one point. His appearance means he won’t redshirt.
— Freshmen Taylor Currie, Joe Hedstrom and Carter Higginbottom announced prior to the game they intend to redshirt this season.
— In his first official game since getting injured last December, guard Kobe King came off the bench to score eight points and grab four rebounds.
Wisconsin will travel to take on Xavier next Tuesday (11/13) as part of the Gavitt Tipoff Games.