Happ scores 20 as Wisconsin holds off Penn State 66-60

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) When Greg Gard watches Nigel Hayes, he sees flashes of Brandon Taylor.

The Wisconsin coach appreciates both players for their nearly identical skill sets – Hayes, the Badgers' leading scorer – can score from anywhere, much like Penn State's Taylor. Each man plays a physical style and can work inside out and back again. It's why Gard felt comfortable deploying Hayes to defend Taylor at all costs in the Badgers' 66-60 win on Thursday night.

''We talked all week that they're very similar players,'' Gard said. ''Brandon, he means to Penn State what Nigel means to us in terms of how they play through him and try to utilize him and go through him quite a bit.''

Save for a late surge in which Penn State (11-9, 2-5) pulled within three points with 30 seconds left, Hayes accomplished his primary task quite effectively.

He kept Taylor off the board in the first half, holding Penn State's top scorer to just one shot. Meanwhile, Ethan Happ picked up the scoring mantle for Wisconsin (11-9, 3-4 Big Ten) and the Badgers won their second straight Big Ten game. Happ had 20 points and 11 rebounds while Hayes added 15 points.

Wisconsin led by as many as 17 in the middle of the second half before Taylor came alive late. He scored nine of Penn State's final 11 points including his lone 3-pointer with 6:20 to play. It sparked a 12-3 run to pull Penn State within five with 3:16 left.

Devin Foster drilled a 3-pointer to cut Wisconsin's lead to 63-60 with 30 seconds left. Happ secured the win with three free throws.

Gard called the game a ''squeaker'' for how close it got in the waning moments. It was an uncomfortable finish for a team that had held six other teams to season-low point totals over the past 12 games.

''They were tough, they were physical and for whatever reason we didn't get going until late in the second half,'' Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. ''I don't know what's going on at home. We're just not playing good basketball in this arena right now and that's my job to figure it out.''

Payton Banks added 11 points for Penn State (11-9, 2-5) while Shep Garner and Foster scored 10 apiece.

Penn State earned its only lead of the night right out of the gate. But Julian Moore's opening layup, augmented by a Jordan Dickerson free throw, wouldn't hold up for long as the Badgers hit basket after basket. Happ was hot from the start with eight of Wisconsin's first 17 points to spot the Badgers an eight-point lead with 10:10 to play in the first.

Meanwhile, Penn State struggled to find openings.

The Nittany Lions attempted just 16 first-half shots and took nearly 13 minutes to reach double figures.

Wisconsin led 27-18 at halftime when Chambers, clearly irked by his team's season-low, first-half output, had words with an official before disappearing into the locker room.

But the Nittany Lions eventually channeled their coach's energy.

Taylor broke out of his shooting slump with his first points of the game with 13:27 remaining. He cut Wisconsin's lead to 11 moments later with a spin move and layup around Bronson Koenig that gave a quiet crowd reason to cheer.

Penn State would keep Wisconsin within two possessions but Happ's presence at the free-throw line – he finished the game 10-for-15 – was the difference.

SHORTHANDED LIONS

Penn State played without guard Josh Reaves (illness) and forward Donovan Jack missed the second half. Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said Jack injured his back in the first half.

Shep Garner also played through an illness, Chambers said.

TIP-INS

Wisconsin: The Badgers, who had seen a 3.5 percent spike in team shooting percentage since former coach Bo Ryan retired in mid-December, looked like they would continue that trend against the Nittany Lions. But a 40.9 percent effort in the second half dropped their overall percentage to 41.7, just slightly above where it was under Ryan.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions played Wisconsin close in each of the last three games they played inside the Bryce Jordan Center. The Badgers were ranked in the three previous games and won them by an average margin of 5.3. This time, with Wisconsin unranked, the results were similar.

UP NEXT

Wisconsin hosts Indiana on Tuesday.

Penn State visits Ohio State on Monday