COLLEGE PARK, Md. — The fifth of his six assists vs. Purdue on Friday night was Ethan Happ at his distributing best.
After his path to the basket was blocked by a double team, the senior center on the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team didn’t panic. Happ regrouped, turned away from the basket and delivered a perfect pass to teammate Aleem Ford for a wide-open 3-pointer.
A sloppy version of Happ was on display three possessions later when he again attempted to connect with Ford, this time underneath the basket. Happ dribbled to the edge of the paint and tried to thread the needle while on the move, but his left-handed bounce pass was deflected and eventually went off Ford and out of bounds.
That aforementioned assist moved Happ into sole possession of fifth place on Wisconsin’s all-time list. The aforementioned turnover was one of nine in the game for Happ, a major factor in the Badgers’ 84-80 overtime loss to the visiting Boilermakers.
A day later, given time to reflect on that career-high total and watch most of them again in the team’s video review session, Happ was blunt in his assessment of what happened. “There were several that I could have done differently, where it wasn’t necessarily what Purdue was doing, it was self-inflicted,” he said.
The miscues marred an otherwise brilliant performance by Happ, who, as usual, carried Wisconsin on his back while producing team highs in points (31), rebounds (13) and assists.
The game featured the good and bad of how Happ fills up a box score. He’s already the program’s all-time leading rebounder and could finish No. 1 in points and blocked shots as well. He’ll also be second in steals and likely third in assists.
But Happ is also closing in on a statistical milestone that isn’t as flattering. Two turnovers on Monday night, when the Badgers (11-5, 3-2 Big Ten) play Maryland (14-3, 5-1) at the XFINITY Center, will give Happ 300 for his career.
He’d become the first Wisconsin player to hit that mark since Michael Finley had 318 turnovers from 1991-95. The only other players with 300-plus turnovers since Wisconsin began recording the stat at the start of the 1977-78 season are Claude Gregory (396) and Wes Matthews (320), the latter accumulating that total in three seasons.
Some context is required at this point: Happ, who has been called the most unique player in the nation by coaches and commentators alike, essentially plays the role of point center. He’s had his hands on the ball a lot while playing over 3,500 minutes in his career and, over the past two seasons, he’s been the focal point of an offense without a consistent complementary threat.
Meanwhile, the tempo Wisconsin plays at also must be considered. Unlike Finley, who played in a fast-paced system, Happ and the Badgers typically operate in low-possession games where turnovers are even more costly.
While Happ ranks fifth in assists at Wisconsin, he’s last among the top 10 players on that list in terms of assist-to-turnover ratio. His 1.16 ratio is slightly lower than Finley’s 1.17 mark.
“When we see him handle the ball and put team teams on their heels and get some opportunities, it looks great and everyone writes about that and praises that,” Badgers assistant coach Howard Moore said. “But when things don’t go our way, obviously that’s a concern. You’ve got to live with a little bit of that. But (Wisconsin coach Greg Gard) has always cautioned on the point of him being safe with the ball and not being risky.”