Ohio State put up quite a fight in Madison, but the Badgers weathered the storm in the second half, and pulled out the victory, 79-68.
Ohio State got off to another sluggish start, something that hasn't necessarily been foreign to the Buckeyes this season. Wisconsin opened up the game 11-0 before an Ohio State timeout. JaQuan Lyle got the Buckeyes on the board after being subbed into the game.
His presence off the bench kept the Buckeyes in the game early, as Lyle had seven points at the under-12 timeout, with the Buckeyes down 17-12. Lyle and Trevor Thompson would cut the Wisconsin lead to one, as the Buckeyes found themselves down 21-20 with just over eight minutes left in the first half, and into the under-8 timeout.
The Buckeyes did a really good job of recovering from their terrible start, but Wisconsin was able to keep their distance, even as the Buckeyes found themselves down 29-30 with three minutes left in the first half. The Badgers, not typically a great three-point shooting team, shot 7-of-16 from deep. Wisconsin went on a 7-0 run, and found themselves back up 37-29.
After a JaQuan Lyle basket and foul, referees went to the monitors to review the play. While it was initially believed that the ball's status of whether or not it was in bounds was in question, the referees called a technical foul on Jae'Sean Tate. Lyle would make his free throw, along with Nigel Hayes making one technical free throw to make it a 38-32 game, which would be the halftime score.
JaQuan Lyle picked up in the second half where he left off in the first. He opened up with a three pointer, and it was clear early on the Buckeyes came out with a good energy. The Badgers started off 0-of-2, but then would make their next three consecutive baskets, going up 46-39 at the under-16 timeout.
Nigel Hayes, who was mostly silent for the first half after shooting 0-for-6, knocked down a three to put the Badgers up 10. Jae'Sean Tate continued his good start to the second half with an answer to the Hayes triple with a basket, and the foul. In the second half, it seemed for every punch Ohio State threw, Wisconsin had an answer.
As Kam Williams warmed up, Nigel Hayes did as well. Through the first 10 minutes of the second half, Williams had 10 points, and Hayes had 11. As best as the Buckeyes tried to trim the Badger lead, it just didn't happen. Alex Illikainen hit a three to put the Badgers up 62-50, forcing an Ohio State timeout.
The Buckeyes kept pushing. They would go on a 9-0 run to bring the Wisconsin lead down to 62-59. It appeared that the Buckeyes were going to take advantage of a huge momentum swing, but the Badgers would answer with a bucket of their own, along with a Nigel Hayes free throw to get their lead back up to 65-59.
A JaQuan Lyle free throw, along with a pair of Keita Bates-Diop free throws put the Buckeyes down 66-63 with four minutes remaining in the game after Vitto Brown made a free throw for Wisconsin. The defense tightened up for the Buckeyes, and really appeared to be rattling the Badgers on their home floor. But Nigel Hayes threw down a huge dunk with under three minutes remaining, getting the crowd in Madison loud.
A Marc Loving missed three, and a pair of Nigel Hayes free throws put the Badgers up 70-63. Not to be outmatched, JaQuan Lyle made a jumper, giving him 27 points on the night, and bringing the Buckeyes within five. A Jordan Hill three on the next possession seemed like it could take the air out of the Buckeyes, but Keita Bates-Diop had an old-fashioned three-point play, keeping the Buckeyes within five.
Vitto Brown knocked down a jumper, and after a Buckeye miss, it was all Wisconsin from there.
3 things we learned:
1. When JaQuan Lyle is on, it helps. The Buckeyes got off to arguably their worst start this season. But Lyle came off the bench and immediately gave the Buckeyes the spark that they needed, as it looked like they might be off to another blowout conference loss. Lyle had 18 first half points, with two rebounds and two assists. He brought an energy to a team that seemed dead early on. He gave the Buckeyes more in the second half, and would finish with 27 on the night.
Since December, the Buckeyes are 5-1 when Lyle scores 10 or more points. Offense has largely been an issue with this team all season, not knowing where it's going to come from game to game. Tonight, it was Lyle, and hopefully it can help him find his groove. If he's able to find any type of consistency on the offensive end, it could turn him into helping the Buckeyes make a late season push at the NCAA Tournament, after being benched not too long ago.
2. Bench scoring comes through again. As aforementioned, scoring has come from many different places for Ohio State this season. On certain nights, the bench plays a huge role, and sometimes even carries the load. Tonight was one of those nights. In the first half, the Buckeye bench had 27 of their 32 first half points. All of them came from JaQuan Lyle and Trevor Thompson. Kam Williams had good looks at the basket, but they didn't fall.
In the second half, Williams had eight points in nine minutes to help keep the Buckeyes in the game early on in the second half, and would finish with 10. By the end of the game, the bench had 42 of the team's 68 points. The bench has played a big role all season, and that's come in handy in a Buckeye team that has been extremely hot and cold in seemingly every game during the season. If there is any consistency that could be found, it would be gladly welcomed.
3. Defense has to be consistent, too. It took them a minute, but the Buckeyes were able to find a rhythm on offense, especially in the second half. As the Buckeyes seemed like they could possibly trim Wisconsin's lead, they just couldn't get enough stops on defense. The Badgers were getting wide open looks, and cuts to the basket would go undefended at times. As well as Ohio State did on the offensive end at times tonight, it didn't always seem to click on the defensive end.
The Buckeyes were able to claw their way back in the latter end of the second half, after hitting on most of their shots, along with Wisconsin missing some open looks. When the game got within reach, the effort was so much better on that end for the Buckeyes, and it really felt that they could come away with the win. If the coaching staff is able to put some emphasis on defense, it could greatly help not only that end of the floor, but on offense as well.