A career night from Wisconsin reserve forward Khalil Iverson led the Badgers to a 63-55 victory at Illinois on Sunday night.
The freshman forward buoyed the Badgers (13-9, 5-4 B1G) with junior point guard Bronson Koenig struggling and in deep foul trouble for most of the game.
Iverson scored a career high 10 points to go along with five rebounds and two assists, while also going 3 of 4 from the field.
He got major help as the second half went on from star forward Nigel Hayes, who led all Badgers with 17 points on 7 of 8 shooting from the free throw line and 5 of 12 shooting from the field.
All of it led to the Badgers owning a four-game win streak on the season and a four-game win streak against the Illini (10-12, 2-7 B1G) in Champaign.
Even a combined 37-point effort from Illini stars Kendrick Nunn (22) and Malcolm Hill (15) couldnâ€™t overcome Wisconsinâ€™s ability to get to the free throw line late.
Illinois has been a team living and dying on its perimeter shooting, and that certainly was the case in first half for the hosts. The Illini shot just 40 percent from the field, but four of their 10 made field goals came from beyond the arc.
After hitting the first two shots from beyond the arc, Illinois was up 6-0 and the Badgers were chasing the game from beyond the arc as well. It was a recipe for disaster early on, and playing a perimeter-based game gave the Illini an early cushion to work with.
However, after taking charge and leading by as many as 8 points early on in the first half, Illinois found the other edge of the perimeter sword. It went cold from beyond the arc and couldnâ€™t score down low, meanwhile the Badgers offense began to pick up even without two of its star players.
With Bronson Koenig and Ethan Happ on the bench with two early fouls each, the Badgers went on aÂ 15-4 run since the 10-minute mark of the half. That run saw the Badgers take their first lead of the game and extend it to a three-point lead at 25-22 with 4:19 to play in the first half.
UW continued to lean on the play of Nigel Hayes and freshman Khalil Iverson, who finished the first half with 6 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Yet none of it led to Wisconsin getting to the free throw line, as the Badgers didnâ€™t attempt a single free throw in the first half.
After attempting 37 in the win over Indiana and averaging 22 free throw attempts per game it certainlyÂ flew in the face of the formula that has gotten Wisconsin three-straight victories, but it somehow worked.
Hitting 68 percent of two-point shots certainly didnâ€™t hurt in leu of the usual formula.
With the team struggling without him, Hayes stepped up in the first half and hit the final shot of the half to put the Badgers up 33-28 heading in to intermission. He finished the half with 8 points and 2 rebounds on 4-9 shooting.
It took Wisconsin over 30 minutes to finally get to the line, but when it finally did it got there enough to help build on a lead that was nearing double digits.
The Badgers made up for lost time at the line in the final seven minutes or so, going 17-20 from the line from that point forward and locking up the win with clutch free-throw shooting in the final minute of the game.
Despite those numbers, the Badgers offense sputtered without getting to the line in the final 10 minutes of the game. Itâ€™s lack of field goal shooting late helped the Illini stay in a game that shouldâ€™ve been over, as the Illini cut a 10-point lead in half with just 1:02 to play.
However, Hayes and Zak Showalter got to the line plenty and were up to the task â€” going a combined 8 of 8 in the final 57 seconds of the game.
Wisconsin will put its four-game win streak on the line on Feb. 4th as Ohio State visits the Kohl Center for a 6p.m. tip on ESPN.