Over the last seven years, the Buckeyes and Badgers have formed a nice little rivalry within the Big Ten Conference. Fueled by both teams’ success and a little help from a vocal head coach, it’s consistently been one of the can’t-miss games when the Badgers come to town. Last night was no different as Wisconsin ran their slow jam offense to perfection in the first half, working the Buckeyes over with a barrage of big man threes. But, the pace quickened a bit in the second half, and the leading scorer in the conference took over as Deshaun Thomas led the 11th-ranked Bucks to a 58-49 win in The Schott.
Looking at the B1G slate, the Wisconsin games always scare me because of their staunch commitment to Bo Ryan’s slow, deliberate pace on both ends of the floor. Whatever the next greatest degree of slowness is beyond a snail’s pace, that was the speed of this game at the tip. There were five points TOTAL scored in the first seven minutes of the game: one three from Mike Bruesewitz and a layup from Thomas. When the scoring did take off a bit, it was Wisconsin’s three pointers from several guys after deliberate and repeated ball movement that was breaking the Buckeyes’ back at the end of the shot clocks. OSU was guilty of “overhelping” on dribble penetration as Matta put it and giving up the three point looks as a result.
On the other end, Wisconsin’s daring initial strategy of guarding Thomas was baffling to me. Instead of throwing two (or even three) guys at him in the halfcourt sets, they used a mix of 6’6″ forwards Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans on him 1-on-1 in the post. It seemed to take Thomas some time to adjust to actually being able to get the ball inside the three-point arc with such relative ease as Ryan mentioned post-game that their strategy was to keep Thomas away from threes. Thomas did score the team’s first eight points with the ease of looks as he finished a couple right over top of a man in close guarding position.
The pace that Wisconsin plays at sucks teams in like a black hole of incomplete offense, fatigued defense, and no fastbreaks. When the Buckeyes should have been trying to beat Wisky up the court on missed shots, they were instead content to walk the ball up the court. In a balanced attack that saw the Badgers drill six of their first 11 threes, Wisconsin led by seven with 1:49 before half. Every three ball seemed like it counted for five points in this heavyweight crawl. Just in the nick of time, however, OSU used a 7-0 run to tie the game at 24, which included five trips to the line.
Buckeye point Aaron Craft was instrumental in the second half surge by providing a second scoring option. Craft scored all 13 of his points in a 10-minute stretch that see-sawed intermission, and it was at the most critical juncture of the game. Said Craft postgame, “The biggest thing is to get the lead. Rebounding the ball was important to getting the lead and not wasting an offensive possession with a bad shot. We didn’t do anything special. We took it one possession at a time.”” It was just as important for Craft to man the point and create off the dribble for others as it was for him to score as it prevented the endless, pointless reversals around the horn.
I’ve been waiting for it for some time now, but it appears that Thad Matta has finally put his trust in LaQuinton Ross, and boy was he ever rewarded. Ross was on the floor as the Buckeyes rattled off a 15-0 run midway through the second half to take the lead. It was Ross’s ability to generate offense, stretch the floor, and provide another scoring option to Thomas that made him so valuable last and every other night. The sophomore forward said following last night’s game, “For me as a player, the biggest area I have grown in is listening. Last year, I was rebellious and it really hurt me. It’s not all about scoring. I do what I can for my teammates.” Ross finished with 8 points on 3-of-4 shooting in 20 minutes. That’s the type of production and minutes that I think we should see every night from here on out for Q.
The Buckeyes defense picked it up and closed out on shooters better. From 13 minutes until 6:30 in the second half, it was a 15-0 run for Ohio State to take an 11-point lead. The charge was led by DT that turned the game for good. Thomas scored 10 of those fifteen points and assisted on one of the biggest shots of the game, a kickout from the post to LaQuinton Ross for a trifecta. Thomas had several back-down lay-ins from the block, but he also added several, much higher degree of difficulty turn-and-fades from mid-range over the outstretched arms of Evans that were the stuff of which NBA arsenals are made. Thomas led the way for the Bucks with 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting and added four assists while going the 40-minute distance yet again. Thad actually burned a timeout in the final five minutes to give the gassed Thomas a breather.
In their more efficient second half, OSU shot 64%. Wisconsin’s motives were clear as they made 11-of-28 three point attempts, outscoring the Bucks by 24 from there. Wisconsin, however, DID NOT SHOOT A SINGLE FREE THROW IN THIS GAME. That’s just unreal to me in a forty-minute game, and it shows how ploddy, timid, and deliberate the Badgers are on the offensive end. Five Badgers made threes, and four made at least two. Traevon Jackson, OSU legend Jimmy’s son, led Wisconsin with 12 points, while Jared Berggren had 11 points and three triples.
Next up, the Buckeyes have the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Saturday night in Lincoln. There can be no overlooking the Huskers, because in the race to keep pace in the Big Ten, the Bucks can ill afford to drop this one. If they take care of business on Saturday, the Bucks could be tied with Michigan State and the loser of the top-three Indiana-Michigan battle on Sunday with two conference losses, trailing only the winner of that game by one in the Big Ten race.
(Photo: Jay LaPrete/AP)