If this Ohio State team goes on to accomplish something big this season, the Buckeyes could look back to Tuesday’s game against Wisconsin as something of a turning point.
Deshaun Thomas scored 25 points in a 58-49 win over Wisconsin.
OSU trailed visiting Wisconsin for much of the game’s first 30 minutes before showing some incredible backbone with a 15-0 run to grab the lead for good. It was far from pretty, but No. 11 Ohio State outlasted Wisconsin 58-49 Tuesday night at Value City Arena.
“I think we executed real well down the stretch,” said OSU’s Deshaun Thomas, who had a game-high 25 points. “We knew it would be a low scoring game because that’s what Wisconsin likes. Coach Matta said we had to show toughness and execute really well. That’s what we had to do.”
As expected, this was a grind-it-out type game as the Buckeyes (16-4, 6-2) welcomed in the deliberate Badgers (14-7, 5-3). But OSU had Thomas – and some timely second-half defense -- on its side.
Thomas continued his stellar season. He was 10 of 17 shooting from the floor and played the whole 40 minutes for the Buckeyes.
Thomas had 10 of his points during that late 15-0 run. Matta said this was one of Thomas’ best games in his three years as a Buckeye.
“I’ve used this word with him a few times, but just his efficiency was good tonight,” Matta said. “He was exhausted the last five minutes of the game. Two years ago, he would shut down on the defensive end and save it for the offensive end. How he got them was just the biggest thing. He was more patient tonight.”
Aaron Craft chipped in 13 points and seven rebounds for OSU, while LaQuinton Ross had eight points off the bench for OSU.
“Hopefully it helps (Ross) from the standpoint of being in there at critical junctures of the game,” Matta said. “He’s listening and getting some toughness about him. We need him to continue to develop at the rate he is going.”
Ross added, “They told me what they tell me before every game – stay ready. Tonight, Coach gave me the minutes and I had to step up.”
Traevon Jackson, a Westerville, Ohio, native and son of former OSU All-American Jim Jackson, had 12 points for Wisconsin, while center Jared Berggren had 11 points and nine rebounds for UW. It was a tough night for UW’s Ryan Evans, who was 1 of 10 shooting and finished with two points.
The Badgers never got to the foul line.
“We’ve done that to other teams and we’ve had some other games where we’ve only shot one or two,” said UW coach Bo Ryan. “But Ohio State played well defensively.”
Matta added, “I thought we were much sounder defensively. They chose to shoot a lot of threes. Our positioning was better. We helped better and sometimes we overhelped and that led to some chances for them.”
The first half was either a display of great defense or terrible offense – by both teams. They each shot in the neighborhood of 39 percent from the floor. Wisconsin led by as many as seven in that first half before a late OSU rally trimmed the margin to two at 26-24. Thomas had 11 of his points in the first half.
How bad was this first half? Well, Ohio State missed nine of its first 10 shots from the floor and still only trailed 3-2 a full six minutes into the game. Those were a lot of lost possessions by both sides before the offenses were able to catch up to the defenses.
“We started 1 for (10) and a couple times, I just told our guys, ‘Hey, we’ve got to make some shots,’ ” Matta said. “Sure enough, we were able to do that.”
Wisconsin’s first three field goals were all three-pointers – one by Brusewitz, one by Berggren and one by Brust – as the Badgers led 9-4 with 11:44 left in the half.
Thomas started attacking for OSU, scoring twice inside and dishing to LaQuinton Ross for a three that put OSU up 11-9 with 9:45 left in the half. But a three by Traevon Jackson put the Badgers back up 19-15 with 4:43 left in the half.
Berggren then banked in a three and took a Brust pass for a jam to give Wisconsin its biggest lead of the half at 24-17 with 1:47 left in the half.
The Buckeyes rallied with seven straight points in a little over 30 seconds. Thomas was fouled on a three-point attempt and made all three free throws. Craft then drove for a layup and drew a foul. He missed his free throw attempt, but the rebound was batted out of bounds off UW and OSU retained possession.
Almost immediately on the inbounds play, Craft drove again and was fouled. His two free throws tied it at 24-24 with 56 seconds left. But UW’s George Marshall capped the half with a layup (which was goaltended by OSU) for a 26-24 lead.
“The end of the half was a big momentum swing for us,” Matta said.
Wisconsin led by five at 31-26 after a Jackson three with 18:11 left. The Badgers were still up 41-37 after a layup by UW’s Sam Dekker with 13:01 left.
But this is where OSU went on its decisive 15-0 run to grab control of the game. Lenzelle Smith Jr. started it by driving for a layup. Thomas then made a spinning jumper on the baseline. Thomas then drove for a one-hander.
Where Wisconsin had gotten a lot of bounces earlier on, OSU finally got one. Evan Ravenel grabbed an offensive rebound and was stripped. The ball went right to Thomas, who laid it in. The run continued as Shannon Scott drove and pitched it to Ross for a three. Scott then had a steal and fed Thomas for a layup.
Finally, with VCA on full blast, Thomas deked UW’s Brusewitz and hit a step back jumper for a 52-41 lead with 6:32 left.
“Q’s three was huge and Amir got the pick-and-roll dunk (from Thomas),” Matta said. “We got a couple easy ones which are hard to get against them.”
Craft added, “All season long, we have known that our greatest offense stems from our defense. We did a great job of grabbing some long rebounds. That gave us a chance to run … that’s when we are at our best when everybody is contributing.”
Wisconsin rallied with threes by Brust and Berggren to cut it to 52-47 with 4:26 left. But OSU’s Scott had a steal and went in for a layup and was undercut by UW’s Jackson. Scott’s free throw made it 55-47 with 3:37 left.
“Shannon’s and-one there late was big,” Matta said. “He had a couple of big-time steals.”
Ravenel provided the capper with a driving bank shot for a 57-49 lead with 52.1 seconds left.
Wisconsin shot a miserable 34.6 percent from the floor in the second half (9 of 26). Meanwhile, OSU hit 63.6 percent of its shots (14 of 22) in the second half.
“We were more aggressive in terms of our pace of the offense and the flow of our offense,” Matta said. “We did a good job of getting open shots.”
* With 1,302 points, Thomas moved to No. 28 on the all-time scoring list at OSU. He tied his career-best with four assists. He has been in double figures in all 20 games this year.
* This is a game that should help Ohio State’s RPI. The Buckeyes were 24th in RPI coming into the game, while Wisconsin was 47th.
* Ohio State now leads the all-time series with Wisconsin 84-66, including 53-22 in Columbus.
Ohio State is 8-5 against Wisconsin at Value City Arena since it opened in 1998-99.
Since his arrival at OSU in 2004-05, Thad Matta is 8-10 against Wisconsin. Since his arrival at Wisconsin in 2001-02, Bo Ryan is 14-9 against Ohio State.
* Ohio State is now 73-20 vs. Big Ten opponents at Value City Arena.
* Ohio State owns a 149-13 home record during the Thad Matta era. The Buckeyes are 67-4 in Columbus over the past four seasons. That includes an 11-1 home record this year. The lone home loss was to Kansas on Dec. 22 (74-66).
* Matta’s teams are also 197-21 against unranked opponents. Over the last three years, OSU is 67-1 against unranked opponents with the lone loss at Illinois in January 2002 (79-74). The Buckeyes have won 64 straight home games against unranked opponents, dating to a Dec. 27, 2008, loss to West Virginia.
* Wisconsin is 2-4 in road games this season with wins at Nebraska and Indiana and losses at Florida, Marquette and Iowa.
* Ohio State visits Nebraska (11-10, 2-6) on Saturday (7 p.m., Big Ten Network). OSU defeated Nebraska 70-44 on Jan. 2 in Columbus. The Huskers visit Minnesota on Tuesday before hosting OSU.