As Wisconsin used a 13-0 run to pull it into a first half lead and Ohio State utilized a 10-0 run of its own to retake the lead early in the second half, it seemed like a game of elongated runs would decide the winner of the Big Ten tournament.
What came next was an absolute back-and-forth battle between defensive-minded teams. But the runs weren’t over. The final run, however – this one 8-0 in favor of the Buckeyes – proved to be the difference-maker as Ohio State (26-7) exploited a cooled down Wisconsin (23-11) team in the final seven minutes and changed en route to a 50-43 victory in the tournament final.
The price of possessions climbed throughout the waning moments of the second half right alongside the rising amount of jumpers clanging off the United Center rims. With that in mind, the rebounding battle took center stage and eventually turned into the difference-maker for the newly crowned Buckeyes.
Offensive rebounding benefits Buckeyes
Although the total rebound numbers for the game only slightly favored Ohio State – the Buckeyes out-rebounded the Badgers 27-23 – it was the type of rebounds that proved vital as the game was decided.
With just 6:43 left on the clock and Wisconsin nursing a 41-39 lead, Ohio State forward DeShaun Thomas grabbed his third offensive rebound of the game before being fouled on his ensuing put-back, starting the Buckeyes’ triumphing run with a pair of free throws.
Two possessions later at the 4:30 mark, the Buckeyes had taken a two-point lead before Thomas was forced into a tough fadeaway jump shot as the shot clock ticked toward zero.
His shot careened hard off the front of the rim and Ohio State forward LaQuinton Ross split three seemingly immovable Badgers, grabbing the board in the middle of the lane. Ross dribbled into Wisconsin forward Ryan Evans before spinning at the right block and converting a layup and the foul by Evans.
After the game sophomore Traevon Jackson, one of the immovable Badgers, blamed himself for letting Ross get to the basket.
“Trae was honest,” UW head coach Bo Ryan said. “He missed the block-out assignment there. He had him, so they made us pay.”
Although Ross missed the ensuing free throw, Ohio State guard Shannon Scott grabbed his team’s 12th and final offensive rebound of the game, extending another precious possession. Ross finished it off with a layup, increasing the Buckeyes’ score to 47, a number Wisconsin would never reach.
Throughout the game, Ohio State grabbed seven more offensive rebounds than Wisconsin, leading to a second-chance points differential of 13-4, indispensable in the seven-point Buckeye win.
“Every possession counts, whether it’s a turnover or offensive rebound,” Evans said. “They were able to get their hands on a couple loose balls, and that could have been the difference in the game.”
Five was Wisconsin’s lowest offensive rebounding total of their three games in the weekend tournament and came in a game where senior forward Jared Berggren played just 23 minutes, his lowest since the February 3 blowout of Illinois.
Berggren averaged just 24 minutes throughout the tournament, but his playing time never became an issue for Wisconsin as his substitute was efficient nearly every time.
Kaminsky wraps up solid tournament
It was that Illinois blowout when sophomore forward Frank Kaminsky last played more than 13 minutes for Wisconsin. Kaminsky had scored just 20 points and grabbed just 15 rebounds in the nine games since early February, but quickly became a focal point of the Wisconsin bench throughout the weekend.
With Berggren sidelined with four fouls, Kaminsky displayed some scoring magic in the Badgers’ comeback victory over Michigan Friday, delivering a couple of daggers into Michigan’s fateful hide with two buckets in the game’s final minutes.
Then, against Indiana, Kaminsky came back with an all-around performance, missing the only shot he attempted, but grabbing three offensive rebounds and assisting off two of them to three-pointers by George Marshall and Ben Brust.
Kaminsky was effective once again Sunday for Wisconsin. When the big man stepped in for Berggren in the first half, Kaminsky made his first bucket at the 9:20 mark with a layup off a Mike Bruesewitz assist.
Within the next two minutes, Kaminsky assisted one three-pointer, made a steal on defense and extended the Badgers’ first-half lead to seven with a three of his own. In just eight first half minutes, Kaminsky led Wisconsin in scoring.
Throughout the weekend, the Lisle, Ill., native tallied 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting, grabbing six rebounds and six assists in 42 minutes from the forward position.
“His numbers, shooting-wise and rebounding, coaches are never totally happy,” head coach Bo Ryan said, noting how Kaminsky’s defensive struggles have kept on the bench more often than not. “I’m not trading him, though.”
In possession-imperative games like the championship game Sunday, a little extra offensive boost, if Kaminsky can continue to provide it, might have to trump concerns of his defense. It doesn’t seem as if the sophomore would hold anything back when given the chance.
“When Jared comes out, I just try to bring energy off the bench,” Kaminsky said. “This is tournament time, the biggest time of year, so you have to have that win or go home mentality … it’s what I tried to play with this weekend.”