It seemed a fitting end that the last game of conference play in the Big Ten was a 40 minute slugfest, featuring 10 different lead changes and a score that was tied seven times as Wisconsin and Ohio State exchanged blow after blow.
Like it has at numerous points in the season, Wisconsin’s offense went cold when it mattered most, going scoreless from the field in the game’s final seven minutes as Ohio State captured the Big Ten Tournament title with a 50-43 win.
The win was the Buckeyes third conference tournament title in the last four years, as the Badgers lost in their first appearance in the Big Ten final since 2008.
“We played well, things didn’t go our way today,” redshirt senior forward Mike Bruesewitz said. “We have to put this one behind us, have amnesia and get back to work on Monday. Now we’ve got the Big Dance, and we have to take care of business there too.”
The Buckeyes’ Deshaun Thomas led all scorers with 17 points, helping his team overcome 1-of-16 shooting from three in the victory. Sophomore Traevon Jackson led the Badgers with 10 points.
“I thought we had a chance to run the gauntlet but just didn’t have quite enough in us,” Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said. “Our guys got them to take some pretty tough shots for the most part.”
Picking up right where they left off from the first half, the Buckeyes and Badgers exchanged blows back and forth. Neither team was able to amount a lead more than two points until there were just five minutes remaining in the game.
With the score knotted at 41-41, Wisconsin turned the ball over and Aaron Craft — who was named the Big Ten Tournament’s MVP — got his hands on it, taking the ball coast-to-coast for a layup. After Evans missed the first of a bonus free throw situation, the Buckeyes gained ground thanks to the timely play of LaQuinton Ross. The sophomore forward brought down a big offensive rebound on a missed jumper by Thomas and took it up strong, drawing a foul on Evans on his make, giving OSU a 45-41 lead.
“I think the turning point of the game was when LaQuinton Ross got that offensive rebound and that was on me,” Jackson said. “He really stepped up for them. They just got the extra second-chance points. We played good defense, they just got the hustle points in this one.”
Ross wasn’t done yet, scoring on a spinning layup in the lane over Ben Brust after another Wisconsin turnover, giving Ohio State a 47-41 lead.
“I thought Q was tremendous,” Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. “He did have a couple timely field goals for us and a couple big rebounds. That’s what we need from LaQuinton at that spot.”
Jackson finally gave the Badgers their first points in nearly four minutes with a pair of free throws, narrowing his team’s deficit to 47-43. A double-dribble by Craft on the following possession gave Wisconsin a chance to narrow the gap further, but two attempts from deep by Brust and Bruesewitz rimmed in and out and Evans missed an open jumper, sealing the game for Ohio State.
Ohio State was very controlled on offense to start the first half against Wisconsin. Patiently playing a half-court game, the Buckeyes earned several early baskets from backdoor cuts, with Thomas catching Evans sleeping to give his team a 13-6 lead.
But, like they’ve had throughout the tournament, the Badgers had an answer with a big run, as big-man sophomore Frank Kaminsky scored five points in a 13-0 run to put Wisconsin back on top with a 13-0 run. Kaminsky’s last bucket, a kick-out three pointer at the top of the key from Evans on the right block, gave the Badgers a 20-13 lead.
Then Ohio State made a run of its own. After an Evans lay-up made it 24-15 for the Badgers, the Buckeyes answered with eight straight points thanks to two quick buckets from Thomas, cutting their deficit to 24-23 at the half. The Badgers didn’t score over the half’s final three minutes.
“We didn’t freak out, we got into the huddle, we took a deep breath and we stayed with our system,” Thomas said. “I know a month ago we would’ve freaked out. But we stayed in it and didn’t freak out.”
From there it took only some tough offensive rebounds and extended possessions to get key second chance points, as the Buckeyes used six offensive rebounds to secure nine second-chance points in the second half. Ohio State outrebounded Wisconsin 39-28 and held the Badgers to just 3-of-18 shooting from behind the arc.
“Whether it was forcing a questionable shot or grabbing the big rebound, that’s how you win big basketball games,” Craft said. “That’s what we tip our hats on and that’s what we were able to do today.”
Notes: UW’s Jackson and Evans were named to the All-Tournament team, as was OSU’s Thomas. … For the fourth time this season Wisconsin had just one player in double figures. They are 0-4 in those games. … Wisconsin will make it’s 15th consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament next Friday in Kansas City. The team will face Ole Miss, the winner’s of the SEC Tournament.