Going into Saturday’s Big Ten clash in Madison, it was hard to tell who needed the win more: No. 24 Ohio State or No. 14 Wisconsin.
Both teams entered Big Ten play with undefeated records but have since struggled in league play as the Buckeyes had dropped five out of six games entering Madison while Wisconsin had lost four of five games, including two straight at the Kohl Center.
In an offensive struggle that was slowed down by some questionable calls in the final few minutes, Aaron Craft and the Buckeyes (17-5, 4-5) came through with the big 59-58 win over the Badgers (17-5, 4-5) on Saturday at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin has now lost five of six games, including three straight losses at the Kohl Center — the first time that’s ever happened under Bo Ryan.
Although Craft struggled to find his offensive game for the first 36 minutes — going 0-for-2 from the field — his three-pointer with four minutes left cut Ohio State’s deficit to 54-53 as Craft scored seven consecutive points for the Buckeyes down the stretch to put them back into the game.
Ohio State once again had a tough time manufacturing points, but Amedeo Della Valle added 11 points and two three-pointers off-the-bench to help the Buckeyes get going offensively in the first half and LaQuinton Ross led the Buckeyes with 13 points in the game thanks to steady free throw shooting.
Wisconsin, meanwhile, struggled shooting the ball — both guarded and unguarded — and it led to their demise on Saturday. The Badgers were 3-for-17 from the three-point line against Ohio State’s tight perimeter defense and after starting 10-for-10 from the free throw line, the Badgers went 9-for-19 from the free throw line down the stretch.
Wisconsin had multiple chances to tie or take the lead in the final minute, but Traevon Jackson split a pair of free throws with under a minute left and, trailing by one on the final possession, Sam Dekker missed a very contested three-pointer at the buzzer.
Wisconsin freshman forward Nigel Hayes looked like the Badgers’ go-to guy for much of the second half, scoring a team-high 17 points on 6-for-7 shooting, but Hayes didn’t have much help from the rest of his teammates and Hayes struggled to a 5-for-11 finish from the free throw line.
But it was no fault of Hayes that Wisconsin didn’t have enough offense. After a hot start, senior guard Ben Brust (13 points) had a hard time finding his jumper and Dekker and Frank Kaminsky both looked timid on the offensive end. Jackson also struggled to 2-for-9 shooting from the field as well.
Neither team necessarily deserved to win or lose this game, but Ohio State showed grit and determination by fighting back while being down for most of the game on the road. Both of these teams are clearly struggling — especially on the offensive end — but I’m sure Thad Matta and the Buckeyes are thrilled to earn this Big Ten road win as they hope it ends their recent slide.