No. 19 Wisconsin falls to No. 3 Ohio State 58-52
No. 3 Ohio State held on to beat No. 19 Wisconsin 58-52 on Saturday, ending the Buckeyes' nine-game losing streak in Madison — and handing the Badgers their fourth loss at home this season, something that hasn't happened before on coach Bo Ryan's watch.
The Badgers shot 5 for 27 from 3-point range Saturday and struggled to defend Ohio State's Jared Sullinger.
"Our guys take a lot of pride in being a good team, home or away," Ryan said. "And some years maybe you've got some weaknesses, maybe you're not quite as consistent in some areas, things like that. As it's been said many times, it's hard to be (playing) consistently at the highest competitive level."
That said, the Badgers (18-6, 7-4) aren't out of the Big Ten title race by any means.
"It's not over," Jordan Taylor said. "The race is still there. It's obviously a big disappointment when you have a chance to fight back the way we did and score the way we did today. It's still not over, so there's no time to mope or feel sorry for yourself."
Ryan Evans scored 14 points for the Badgers, while Taylor added 12. Mike Bruesewitz had 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Sullinger scored 24 points and William Buford hit a critical 3-pointer down the stretch for the Buckeyes. Deshaun Thomas scored 16 points and Buford added 11 for the Buckeyes (20-3, 8-2 Big Ten), who held onto their lead in the conference standings. Sullinger also had 10 rebounds.
With the victory, Ohio State ended its losing streak in Madison — and avoided a repeat of last year's comeback by the Badgers.
The Badgers had no early answer for Sullinger. He scored the Buckeyes' first nine points, consistently getting the best of the player assigned to defend him, Jared Berggren. Sullinger finished the first half with 16 points.
"I let him get a couple of easy ones early, and that set the tone," Berggren said. "A great player like him, once he gets a little bit of confidence, he's hard to stop. A lot of it came early on. I let him get going. I've got to take a little blame myself for that one."
Wisconsin later went to smaller but more mobile players, Evans and Bruesewitz, in an attempt to slow down Sullinger.
Ryan said he "just wanted people who wanted to move their feet and not allow a pass to enter the post" against Sullinger. Ryan called it an "easy decision" but didn't directly criticize the 6-foot-10 Berggren.
"I'm not going to sell out any particular players or anything," Ryan said.
A layup by Wisconsin's Josh Gasser cut Ohio State's lead to 42-38 with 8:36 left, but Lenzelle Smith Jr. hit a layup and was fouled by Berggren — Berggren's third foul of the game. Smith hit a free throw to convert the three-point play for a seven-point lead, and the Badgers had a shot clock violation on their next possession.
Trailing 47-40 with 6:22 left, Wisconsin went on a 10-4 run, cutting Ohio State's lead to one on a 3-pointer by Bruesewitz with 3:41 left.
But Sullinger came up with a steal, and Buford hit a 3-pointer on the other end to give the Buckeyes a 54-50 lead with 2:27 left.
Sullinger missed a wild shot inside, but Taylor was called for traveling when he ran into Smith as he brought the ball up the court.
Aaron Craft hit a pair of free throws for Ohio State and Taylor hit a layup on the other end, and the Buckeyes led 56-52 with 43.2 seconds left. Buford hit a pair of free throws to stretch the lead to six, and Wisconsin's Ben Brust lost the ball out of bounds.
Saturday's game came after a few days' worth of tension between the schools' athletic departments, centered on a dispute between their respective football programs.
Badgers football coach Bret Bielema hinted during his news conference on Wednesday's national signing day that new Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer was using "illegal" recruiting tactics. Bielema didn't provide specifics.
Meyer and Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith subsequently issued statements defending their recruiting practices. Meyer said "no one on this staff did anything illegal or unethical."
That didn't have any bearing on Saturday's game. The Buckeyes were just happy to get a win in what typically has been a tough place to play.
"It was kind of big because no one ever won here," Buford said. "This is my last time coming here. Of course, I wanted to get the win, and Coach (Thad) Matta, I've never seen him so happy."