In their first game of the week, the 13-seeded Buckeyes (14-18, 5-15) defeated the 12-seeded Wisconsin Badgers (17-14, 9-11) 65-57 to advance to the second round of the conference tournament against Iowa.
The first and only matchup of the season between these two teams had fireworks, but not between the players. Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann was ejected late in the first half for arguing a call. That was only the second time in his six-year career at Ohio State that he was ejected. Ohio State trailed by double digits for most of the game, but made a late run only to fall to the Badgers 65-60.
The Buckeyes started this one on fire, jumping out to a quick 11-4 lead behind five early points from Justice Sueing. The Buckeyes continued to push the lead as Bruce Thornton, Sean McNeil, and Brice Sensabaugh all hit buckets to make the score 25-12.
Wisconsin could not find any holes in the Buckeye defense in the first half and Ohio State led 36-18.
Thornton led the Buckeyes with 13 points on 6-for-7 shooting at the half. Thornton added two rebounds, two assists, and two steals. Sharpshooter Sean McNeil added 10 points off the bench and was 4-for-4 from the field.
For Wisconsin, Steven Crowl led the way with six first-half points on 3-for-7 shooting.
In the second half, the Buckeyes kept their foot on the gas pedal, extending their lead to 43-20 at the under-16 media timeout. Bruce Thornton added two free throws after the timeout to make the score 45-20, the largest deficit Wisconsin had faced all season.
At the 14:40 mark, Wisconsin strung together a scoring run (4-0) for the first time all game. Justice Sueing answered with a three-point play to make the score 50-24.
Wisconsin was able to show some signs of life in a three-minute span, cutting into the Buckeye lead with a 9-0 run and making the score 50-33 with 11:40 left in the game.
Sean McNeil answered the bell, scoring five straight points out of the Ohio State timeout and pushing the lead to 55-33 lead.
Wisconsin would not go away quietly, as they answered with an 8-0 run of their own to make the score 55-41 at the under-8 media timeout.
Both teams went cold after this, with just one bucket from each team (Justice Sueing, Tyler Wahl) being converted in between media timeouts. Ohio State led 57-43 with 3:50 left in the game.
Wisconsin got back to back to back three-point field goals from Connor Essegian, Chucky Hepburn, and Tyler Wahl to cut the Buckeye lead to just five.
Sean McNeil hit two free throws to make the score 59-52. The two teams traded fouls, turnovers, and free throws. After both teams split some free throws, Ohio State held a 62-57 lead with 34.7 seconds left in the contest.
Tyler Wahl missed back-to-back shots and Ohio State was able to hang on for the 65-57 win.
For the Buckeyes, McNeil led the way with 17 points and Bruce Thornton added 15. Justice Sueing also finished with 15. For Wisconsin, Tyler Wahl finished with 19 points, 15 coming in the second half.
Here are three takeaways from the Buckeyes’ win over the Badgers.
During the Buckeyes’ lengthy losing streak, a common occurrence was the Buckeyes' inability to get out to an early lead. In games against Indiana, Illinois, Michigan State, and Wisconsin the Buckeyes had double-digit deficits early in the game and never being able to close the gap to a manageable deficit. Playing from behind all game is not ideal.
In their most recent wins over Illinois, Maryland, and Wisconsin, the Buckeyes were able to be the aggressors early and force the opposing team to force things offensively and force them into mistakes. This is key for a young team so they do not have to rush things and can play the game and style they want too.
It is an old saying and at this point feels pretty clique, but that doesn’t mean “play like you have nothing to lose” is not still relevant.
That is exactly how this Buckeyes team has looked over the last three games and it transferred into the contest tonight. From the opening introductions to the final buzzer, Ohio State looked looser and simply looked like they were having more fun than the Badgers were.
Since the statement is true and the Buckeyes really do have nothing to lose at 14-18 on the season and the NCAA tournament is out of the question unless they win the Big Ten Tournament, the Buckeyes need to continue to play free and loose, especially against a not so great Iowa defense.
Continue to start the freshman
This is not a hot take or anything like that, but it feels like it should be mentioned. Head coach Chris Holtmann and the coaching staff went to the four freshmen starting lineup in mid-February when they were desperate for any type of spark and so far, it has brought multiple benefits to the lineup.
Seniors like Sean McNeil and Isaac Likekele have played freed up coming off the bench and the young freshmen have gotten crucial minutes in close games down the stretch and have gained valuable experience.
The Buckeyes will now play the No. 5 Iowa Hawkeyes (19-12, 11-9) in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament at 2:30 ET on Thursday on the Big Ten Network.