Wisconsin swingman Alando Tucker led the Badgers with 19 points and nine boards on the night. The sophomore drained five of nine looks from the field and all three opportunities from the charity stripe to propel Wisconsin in the opening half with 14 points. Although he only managed to add a pair of buckets in the second half, Tucker’s frenzied effort on the boards helped keep the Badgers afloat with all-Big Ten forward Mike Wilkinson in early foul trouble.
“We wanted to cause a little trouble,” Tucker said. “We knew coming into the game we were gonna see a lot of chalk defense, so we just wanted to [exploit] that. I was trying to attack, trying to be strong and make sure we get open shots.”
Dials tallied 18 of his 20 points in the first period, shooting 7-for-9, largely on inside post moves. Converting from the line after a post layin, Dials crossed over the 1,000-point threshold for his career.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” Dials said. “But I just can’t feel good about the way we played.”
Hall of Fame forward John Havlicek was on hand for the Ohio State loss. During a halftime ceremony, the university retired Havlicek’s No. 5 jersey alongside teammate and three-time All-American Jerry Lucas. The former Buckeye and Celtic great honored diseased Ohio State head coach Fred Taylor during the commencement. Small forward Matt Sylvester — who shot 3-for-12 on the night — was embarrassed with the current Buckeyes’ showing before such legendary company.
“There’s no excuse for that (kind of performance), with John Havlicek sitting in the stands,” Sylvester said after the game. “Personally, I’m utterly ashamed of myself.”
Wisconsin struck an early 10-4 lead with Wilkinson scoring eight points in the first five minutes of play. The senior drained a 3-pointer on the game’s opening possession and another at 3:17 on a swing feed from guard Clayton Hanson. Wisconsin extended the lead to 13-4 on a Hanson baseline trey before the Buckeyes began to rally back.
Poor shooting and lackadaisical rebounding effort hampered the Buckeyes while constant turnovers kept the Badger lead in single digits. By midway through the half, the frequent miscues began to take their toll on the Wisconsin lead as Ohio State closed the gap behind a bevy of post baskets from Dials.
“We made a few bad decisions with the ball,” Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said. “We made some passes in the post and tried to do some things in the post — high risk, high reward type things. Some of them we got away with, some of them we didn’t.”
With Wilkinson riding the pine after picking up his second foul, the Buckeyes tied the game on an earthshaking slam-dunk by Dials. On the following Badger possession, Wisconsin reclaimed the lead with a spot-up jumper by forward Andreas Helmigk.
Dials dropped another monstrous dunk for the equalizer before back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers from Tucker, Hanson and Freshman guard Michael Flowers gave the Badgers a comfortable eight-point lead.
An answer from the top of the key by junior forward Matt Sylvester sliced the lead to five but Wisconsin stormed back with Tucker leading the way inside. The sophomore swingman registered the final bucket of the half by beating his man off the dribble and pulling up for an easy jumper from the paint with 42 seconds left on the clock.
Wisconsin led 37-27 at halftime after shooting 14-for-23 in the opening stanza. Despite committing eight turnovers in the half, the Badgers shelled out 11 assists and out-scrapped the Buckeyes on the glass, securing a 14-9 rebounding margin. The first-half performance in Columbus proved an about-face of Wisconsin’s opening efforts in East Lansing.
“The team was more active (than against Michigan State), defensively and offensively,” Tucker said. “That’s the main thing. It can’t just be on one end of the court.”
In the second half, the commanding inside presence of Dials all but vanished following a defensive adjustment by Wisconsin. Doubling up in the post, the Badgers rotated a second defender to prevent the Buckeyes from feeding inside to Dials. The junior managed to get only one look in the second half, which came on a turnaround post layup three minutes in.
“Coming in at half, we were talking, ‘[Dials] is who they wanted to go to, that’s who they were going to the whole game,'” Tucker said. “We just figured, hey, if we can stop that, we’re going to force them to do something else that they haven’t been doing yet — just to see if they can beat us another way.”
“We tried to put different bodies on him throughout the second half, and when we did that, we did a good job of slowing him down,” Ryan said.
Ugly shooting and strong rebounding characterized the Badgers’ efforts early in the second half. After missing on three looks to open the period, Wisconsin got on the board at 2:09 with a reverse layup from Helmigk. Over the course of a four-and-a-half minute drought by Ohio State, Wisconsin extended its lead to 15 points — the largest margin of the afternoon — capped by another Helmigk reverse off a baseline drive.
With 14:23 remaining in the half, forward J.J. Sullinger ended the Ohio State drought with a pull up jumper from the paint. After initially coming out of halftime clean in the ball-control game, a renewed rash of turnovers stifled the Badgers’ momentum and allowed the Buckeyes to slash the lead to nine by 8:48. Wisconsin finished with 17 turnovers on the afternoon, many of which came on passing mistakes by veteran Badgers.
“I’m big on angles; I didn’t like our angles,” Ryan said. “If it gets through it’s a layup or a drop-step power move. But it didn’t get through, so what difference does it make?”
A baseline drive and subsequent dunk by senior forward Zach Morley ended the Wisconsin slide and reestablished the double-digit lead.
Off-guard Kammron Taylor scored his first points of the game at 10:24 off the dribble penetration. The excursion inside was Twin-Kam’s first and last of the night. The sophomore bagged two shots from the charity stripe to finish with four points on the afternoon — his second straight single-digit point total after a string of scorching road performances midway through the season.
Wilkinson also got on the board for the first time since the opening five minutes of the game with a trey to give Wisconsin a 53-39 lead with 7:25 remaining on the clock. The senior forward shot 5-for-11 on the afternoon and a dismal 1-for-5 from the stripe to finish with 14 points.
“You just try and stay in the game, anyway possible,” Wilkinson said of his cold streak. “The guys did a great job of picking it up.”
With 3:45 left in the game, Tucker broke in on a backdoor cut, dunked over his defender and converted from the line for the old-fashioned 3-point play. The maneuver restored the Badger lead to 14 and forced the Buckeyes to play the foul game for the duration of play. Ohio State managed to reduce the margin to single digits, but couldn’t get any closer as Wisconsin improved to 4-4 in Big Ten road contests.