Last February, Wisconsin came into Columbus, took a 43-27 halftime lead, and never looked back in a 65-60 victory over the Buckeyes. It was Ohio State’s eighth loss in a nine-game stretch and one that they still have not forgotten. Ohio State sophomore center Felix Okpara said Wednesday night’s game was a “redemption” game for the Buckeyes (12-4, 2-3), who were looking to stay perfect in the Big Ten at home.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, came into this game as the only team with zero Big Ten losses. The Badgers (12-3, 4-0) are up to No. 15 in the most recent AP Poll and are No. 12 in KenPom. News flash: they left Columbus with the same number of losses they walked in with.
Chris Holtmann rolled with the same lineup Ohio State has used all season, with sophomores Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle, Felix Okpara, and Evan Mahaffey along with senior forward Jamison Battle. Wisconsin went with a lineup of Chucky Hepburn, Max Klesmit, Tyler Wahl, AJ Storr, and Steven Crowl.
The Buckeyes hit five of their first seven shots in this one and took an 11-8 lead at the first media timeout, 6:26 into the game. They led despite three early turnovers, which was a big problem in the Indiana loss, and reared its head immediately in Wednesday night’s contest. That lead stretched out to 25-17 by the under-eight media timeout, with Thornton and Battle combining for 19 of the Buckeyes’ 25 points. Ohio State did a pretty good job switching on defense in the first half, making it hard for Wisconsin to find open lanes to the basket.
The exception to that was Storr, who torched the nets in the first half to the tune of 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Ohio State tried to put several guys on him, but nothing worked and the former St. John’s star burnt the Buckeyes on all three levels.
Wisconsin ended the first half on a 6-0 run and took a lead into the locker room for the second straight year in Columbus. Last year it was a 16-point lead, this year it was a two-point lead, 35-33.
Storr led all first-half scorers with 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting, while the entire rest of the Wisconsin team scored 20 collectively. Battle led Ohio State with 14 first-half points on 5-of-6 shooting, including 4-of-5 from three-point land. Collectively, the Badgers shot an even 50% in the first half, while Ohio State shot a very similar 48.1%. All in all, a very evenly played first 20 minutes of basketball.
By the 14-minute mark of the second half, Ohio State had made no progress cutting into the slight deficit, and still trailed 43-40. Gayle continued to search for his shot, knocking down just one of his first five in this one while turning the ball over twice as many times he made a basket, to that point of the game.
After falling behind 48-42, Ohio State responded with an 8-0 run over a 2:15-long span to take its first lead of the second half with just under 10 minutes remaining, 50-48. The run was capped off by a fast break possession that all started with Okpara swatting Crowl’s shot, Thornton running down the loose ball in the corner, and then sprinting back up the floor. Eventually, Thornton found Middleton on the far wing for the open three-pointer, putting the Buckeyes up two. Greg Gard immediately called timeout, with the crowd standing and roaring. By the under-eight timeout, Wisconsin had knotted things back up at 52-all.
With 5:14 left in the game, Klesmit — who averages 7.2 points per game — started an improbable run all by himself, scoring eight consecutive points to put the Badgers up 62-56 with 3:03 left in the game. His 8-0 run included two three-pointers that were created because of the attention Wahl and Crowl drew below the basket.
It was a nip-and-tuck battle between two quality teams in the B1G, but in the end, Ohio State was unable to get the defensive stops it needed in the closing minutes to edge out the Badgers, falling 71-60.
It was Klesmit who led the Badgers in scoring, more than doubling his season average of 7.2 with an 18-point game Wednesday night — all of which came in the second half. Storr finished with 17, and Wahl had 11. As a unit, Wisconsin shot 47.4% overall and was 7-of-22 (31.8%) from three-point land.
Battle led the Buckeyes with 18 points as well on 7-of-11 shooting over 38 minutes. He knocked down four three-pointers, bringing his streak of hitting at least five per game to an end after four contests. Thornton had 13 points on 6-of-16 shooting over 37 minutes. Bruce also had six assists and two rebounds. As a team, Ohio State shot 44.6% and was 6-for-18 (33.3%) from distance.
If you weren’t around tonight to see Wisconsin knock off the Buckeyes at home for the season year in a row, here are a few key moments that ultimately played out to be a Badger winner:
Just letting the kids play
We all hate when officials make the game about themselves, take the game out of the hands of the athletes, and just generally disrupt the flow of the game with a bunch of fouls. Wednesday night was the opposite of that. Through the first 9:47 of tonight’s game, the two teams were called for a total of just two fouls — one per team. There was a decent amount of pushing and shoving, but nothing too flagrant. It made for a much smoother game, and by the time the first half buzzer had sounded, the two teams had only committed eight total fouls and shot three free throws.
The point guard’s new groove
Even after a very forgettable game at Indiana over the weekend, Thornton didn’t show up on Wednesday night looking hesitant with his shot. Thornton came out and scored six of Ohio State’s first 11 points, consistently getting to some of his favorite mid-range spots and elevating over Hepburn for baskets. The two guards are the same height, but Thornton took advantage of his nearly 20-pound weight difference over Wisconsin’s junior point guard. Thornton totaled 11 first-half points on 5-of-10 shooting.
Battle totaled 21 three-pointers over the previous four games coming into this one, and kept on that torrid pace in the first half of tonight’s game. The senior forward knocked down four more triples over the first 20 minutes in this one, including back-to-back step-back three-pointers over Klesmit and Wahl that got the crowd on its feet and shouting.
It’s true that Battle’s defense leaves a lot to be desired, but to this point, the Big Ten’s leading three-point shooter has contributed more than enough on offense to make up for it.
Storr putting the Badgers on his back
Wisconsin scored 35 in the first half and shot 50% overall, which isn’t shabby at all. However, a whopping 15 of those points came from one man — AJ Storr. The sophomore transfer from St. John’s took 11 of the Badgers’ 30 shots in the first half, and Ohio State had no answer.
The 6-foot-7 forward had multiple dunks, multiple mid-range jumpers, and a three-pointer for good measure. Gayle and Mahaffey were guarding him for the most part, but neither were able to handle him one-on-one during the first 20 minutes.
Middleton’s three gives Ohio State its first lead of the second half
Trailing 48-47 with 9:47 remaining, Okpara swatted Crowl’s shot below the basket, which led to a fast-break possession for the Buckeyes. Thornton found Middleton open on the far wing, and the freshman knocked it down to give Ohio State a 50-48 lead over the No. 15 Badgers. Middleton finished with five points on 2-of-5 shooting in 20 minutes and also had a block, a rebound, and an assist.
Klesmit’s three puts Wisconsin back up with five minutes to go
Trailing 56-54, Klesmit — a 31% three-point shooter — found himself open after Ohio State sent a double team to Crowl below the basket. Crowl found Wahl, who kicked out to Klesmit, who knocked it down without touching any rim. Klesmit would score again 90 seconds later to put Wisconsin up 59-56, and another three 30 seconds after that to put the Badgers up six.
Klesmit’s 8-0 run over a 2:14 span of game time put the Badgers up 62-56 with 3:03 left. After averaging just a smidge over five points per game over his last six games, Klesmit went nuclear in the second half of Wednesday’s game, scoring all 18 of hsi points after the halftime break.
Ohio State (12-4, 2-3) has four days off before traveling to *nn *rbor to face off with the Michigan Wolverines (6-9, 1-3). Michigan has struggled this year, but the fans are hoping that having the national champions of the college football world in the house will pick the basketball team up, as Jim Harbaugh and the CFP champion Wolverines will be honored on the court during the game.
Michigan guard Dug McDaniel was suspended for Michigan’s next six road games on Wednesday evening, but he will be available and in uniform for Monday’s game against Ohio State at home.
Ohio State’s game against Michigan tips off at noon and will be a nationally televised broadcast on FOX.