Behind a 15-0 run keyed by Ohio State (and game) star Deshaun Thomas, the Buckeyes broke out of an early dual team malaise to build up to an at times double-digit lead, then engaged in a deep focus down the stretch to hold off the unranked, but always tough out, Wisconsin Badgers. Thomas exploded for one of his best offensive games of the season, completing 10-of-17 field goals en route to 25 points. Perhaps most remarkably of all, in a testament to both Ohio State's defense and discipline, Wisconsin managed to not shoot a free throw all night.
In a game that saw the Badgers lead by a rather Wisconsin margin of 26-24 at half, Thomas and running mate, junior Aaron Craft, combined the team's trademark stout defense along with some of their best offensive basketball of the night to help lead to the game-changing run. On the opposing end, despite having led the way for the Badgers the last time they were in Columbus, senior Jared Berggren managed to account for just 11 points. The son of Ohio State great Jim Jackson, Traevon Jackson, accounted for a team-high 12 points but managed to finish with just one assist, problematic from the point guard position.
Tuesday evening's rekindling of acquaintances with the far-from-liked Badgers began with the typical lackluster offense on the part of both teams. Almost eight minutes into the game, the two sides were still deadlocked at a score of just 6-4. Before they even got to that point, the Buckeyes had missed nine of their first 10 shots and both teams seemed to be unable to get into any kind of groove (perhaps not too terribly surprising given their prowess on the defensive end).
LaQuinton Ross, who would ultimately finish with 8 and log more than 20 minutes this game, took advantage of the added playing time (along with the relative disappearing act by Sam Thompson, who recorded neither a highlight worthy GIF-able dunk, nor anything resembling the exhibition he put on against Penn State this past Saturday). With virtually all Buckeyes missing open looks with consistency, Deshaun Thomas of all people facilitated passes to those guys who actually were hitting their shots.
Behind last year's hero Berggren and the ever grating as an opposing fan Mike Bruesewitz, Wisconsin was able to open up a 24-17 lead, seemingly daring the Buckeyes to let this one get away from them early. But the Buckeyes answered back, and three Thomas free throws after a foul during a three-point attempt helped the Buckeyes close the gap to that halftime mark of 26-24.
The second half saw Wisconsin not wavering from the ugly but effective brand of basketball they've made their own. Following a Jackson three-pointer, Wisconsin expanded their lead to 31-26 and heading towards the 12-minute timeout, seemed to have a solid grasp on things.
But that's when the rails came off for the visiting Badgers. A Lenzelle Smith Jr. layup, an athletic spinning make on the baseline by Thomas, and an NBA-worthy drive and lay-in by Thomas revved up what would ultimately become the game-deciding 15-0 run for Ohio State. Even the bounces appeared to head Ohio State's way, as Evan Ravenel proved to be the Buckeye big in the zone for the evening, grabbing rebounds on both ends and helping to facilitate both offense and defense for the Buckeyes.
Though Berggren and Brust would answer with threes to get the double-digit OSU lead back within striking distance, a key steal by Shannon Scott (who'd had a careless play on the previous series) and driving layup and-one opportunity helped return the momentum to Ohio State for good. Ravenel would make his only basket of the evening, proving the bank was open on Tuesday nights, and got the lead up to 8 with less than a minute to play, effectively clinching the win.
The takeaways from this one are that even against a fringe top 25-caliber opponent like Wisconsin and especially against an extremely strong defensive side, Ohio State's still able to find guys to step up when they need it. Though they still don't have a bona fide, reliably consistent number two scorer, so what? Aaron Craft was the guy who stepped up tonight, finishing with 13 points and a head-turning 7 boards. Come Saturday in Lincoln, it's probable given recent results the Bucks will find another guy to step in and fill the role. The second option-by-committee, while hardly ideal, has been effective to a point. And while it's in part doomed Ohio State when that option hasn't been there, in the absence thereof, Thad Matta and company will certainly take what they can get.
Ohio State gets back on the road in league play this Saturday heading to Lincoln to take on Nebraska. The Huskers mark the Buckeyes' first repeat opponent on the 2012-2013 season. Ohio State previously downed Nebraska, 70-44, in Columbus on Jan. 2.
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