It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Thirty-three days ago, the then-No. 21 Ohio State Buckeyes beat the Wisconsin Badgers —who were No. 22 at the time — 73-55 in the teams’ first matchup of the season. Since then, OSU had played three games, going 2-1, before Thursday’s matchup in Madison. The Badgers on the other hand have gone 5-0 and risen from unranked following the loss to No. 13 in the country. Before the game, the Buckeyes and Badgers were tied for second in the Big Ten standings. After the game, not so much.
In a result that stands in contrast to that from last month, the home team defeated Chris Holtmann’s Buckeyes 78-68 on Thursday. No. 16 Ohio State moves to 10-4 (4-2) on the season, while No. 13 Wisconsin goes to 14-2 (5-1) on the season and is starting to become a legitimate player on both the conference and national levels.
Through the first half, the two teams’ stats suggested a far closer game than was actually occurring at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin was outshooting OSU 48% to 43%, both teams had committed seven turnovers, the Badgers were leading on the glass 19 rebounds to 12, both teams had eight bench points, and the Buckeyes were ahead 18 to 14 in terms of points in the paint.
The one striking difference was that the Badgers were 7-of-13 from beyond the arc while the Buckeyes were 0-for-7. That difference led to a 40-27 advantage heading into the break.
The action and score ebbed and flowed throughout the second half, with the Badgers building a lead of as many as 17, but the Buckeyes getting it as close 6. E.J. Liddell absolutely refused to let his team be blown out as he finished the game with 18 points on the night, including 14 in the second half before he fouled out 3:18 remaining. Liddell also chipped in 6 rebounds, 2 blocks, and an assist. Guards Jamari Wheeler (11) and Malaki Branham (10) also contributed to the scoring for OSU, while the other bigs Kyle Young (10) and Zed Key (10) supplemented Liddell’s but it just wasn’t enough to keep up with the Badgers.
Senior guard Brad Davison led the way for the home team with 25 points while junior forward Tyler Wahl also made his mark with 20 of his own. All-America candidate Johnny Davis got his 14 points, but the Buckeyes held him to 4-of-18 from the floor, but he added 9 boards.
I wish my brothers good luck tonight! It sucks to not be there tonight and be in a game like this especially on the road , but injuries is apart of the game and I’ll be back soon! Go bucks— Meechie Johnson (@MeechieJohnson0) January 13, 2022
Before the action tipped off on Thursday night, we learned that Ohio State would be without Meechie Johnson, who apparently suffered some kind of facial injury earlier this week in practice. The second-year guard is averaging 6.6 points per game while shooting 40% from three-point range this season, playing in all 13 meetings for the Buckeye’s before tonight’s contest. Averaging just under 20 minutes per game, his absence opens up some extra time for Cedric Russell and Eugene Brown — both of whom have played well in limited roles for Ohio State.
They were, however, back with their head coach, as Chris Holtmann returned to the sideline following his one-game hiatus because of COVID-19 protocols.
The player to watch on Wisconsin this season has been guard Johnny Davis, who is averaging 22.3 points per game this season for the Badgers. The 6-foot-5 sophomore has been lighting it up as of late for Greg Gard and Co., putting up a career-high 37 points in the team’s upset over Purdue a few games ago and averaging over 25 points per contest in the four games since these two teams last met. It took until the 15:52 mark for him to knock down his first basket, but when he did it was a three-pointer to give Wisconsin a 10-5 lead just ahead of the first media timeout.
It was from there that the Badgers started to heat up from a floor, and they were able to do so as a result of some stellar ball movement. Taking an 18-7 lead at the 13:00 mark of the first period, four different Wisconsin players had gotten on the scoreboard, including a game-high seven points from forward Tyler Wahl. The Badgers began the contest a strong 7-of-11 from the field, hitting on 4-of-5 attempts from downtown, while the Buckeyes started the night just 4-of-11 and missing on all three attempts from beyond the arc. Ohio State’s four quick turnovers did not help matters early on, either.
Cold as ice
By the under-8 timeout, Ohio State trailed Wisconsin 26-15. The Buckeyes’ leading scorer was Jamari Wheeler with three points, as no player on the team had managed to hit more than one bucket (six different players with two points). Holtmann’s group had not managed to knock down a single three-pointer, and the ice-cold Justin Ahrens continued his shooting slump with an 0-for-2 start from deep. As a team, Ohio State was shooting just 39% (7-of-18) from the field with only two assists to five turnovers. The ball movement was certainly not at premium among the guys donning anthracite.
On the Wisconsin side of things, Wahl continued his impressive start with a team-high eight points on a perfect 3-of-3 from the field with four assists and four rebounds. Eighth-year Badger legend Brad Davison was beginning to find his stroke with eight points of his own to tie the team-lead, while Johnny Davis added five. As a team, Wisconsin was shooting over 50% (10-of-19) from the field while knocking down five of their first eight shots from three-point land. To make matters even tougher for the road dogs, the Badgers were out-rebounding the Buckeyes 13-8, scoring 12 of their first 28 points off turnovers and second-chance opportunities.
A good defense is the best offense
After getting down by as many as 16 in the opening minutes of the second half, the Buckeyes started to make a bit of a comeback sparked by the defensive efforts of Liddell. As Davis was driving to the basket, the Buckeye big man blocked the UW layup attempt and after bringing the ball up the floor cleaned up a missed Young hook shot. Then, after a missed Davison three-point attempt, Wheeler and Young hit a pair of layups to get the deficit to just 43-35, the first time OSU had been within single-digits since the score was 30-21.
Liddell won’t give up that easily
After the Liddell block-inspired mini-run for OSU, Wisconsin went on a 9-0 run of there own to get the lead back up to 52-35. But just as he had to open the half, Liddell was not going to let the Buckeyes go down without a fight. In a stretch of 4:32, the Player of the Year candidate hit a pair of triples and mixed in a layup as well.
With the help of two buckets from Zed Key and one by Branham, the Buckeyes got the score to 56-49. Liddell’s will was almost singlehandedly keeping his team in the game. While the Badgers were able to keep OSU at arms length during middle portion of the second half, it was E.J.’s effort that kept the game from getting out of hand.
Pound it in the paint
In his preview of Thursday’s game, our Justin Golba recounted how the Buckeyes won the teams’ initial meeting by dominating in the post. That was very much still the game plan for the rematch — even though the results were very different. Whether it was by feeding Liddell down low or with Branham driving the lane, Ohio State was almost singularly focused on exploiting their size and talent advantage underneath.
On the night, OSU exploited that to the tune of a 46-32 differential in terms of points in the paint.
They had their shot
With 5:52 left in regulation, a Liddell dish to Key led to a thunderous dunk that cut the Wisconsin lead to 61-55. The Buckeyes were within six points and Liddell was starting to get just about anything that he wanted on offense. However, the home team went on an 8-0 run from there and while OSU was able to get it back.
What ultimately was their undoing was that Ohio State could never account for all of the Badger offensive weapons. If they were able to keep Davis in check for a stretch, Davison would dominate for a spell. When the Buckeyes were able to focus on Davison, Wahl would take over.
The Bucks played well on both sides of the floor in stretches, but never consistently enough to put it all together.
Fighting until the end.
After Liddell fouled out with 3:18 left, a pair of Branham jumpers, a Justin Ahrens three, and buckets by Young and Key led to an 11-0 run by the Buckeyes to cut the deficit to just 74-68. While the fouls came on the next Wisconsin possession to prevent the Badgers from running out the clock, Holtmann’s squad continued to fight until the final seconds.
The Buckeyes are back on the court this Sunday at 12 p.m. ET when they welcome the Penn State Nittany Lions into the Schottenstein Center. The game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.