The slow-paced nature in which Wisconsin aims to play its basketball doesn’t often translate into action-packed games that make for the ideal experience for spectators.
Deshaun Thomas didn’t mind it.
“It’s fun,” Thomas said. “I like the challenge.”
That was easy for Thomas to say after No. 11 Ohio State’s 58-49 win over Wisconsin Tuesday evening in Value City Arena, a game in which the junior forward scored 10 of his 25 points during a crucial 15-0 run in the second half that helped the Buckeyes seal the crucial Big Ten victory.
Aaron Craft added 13 points and seven rebounds, and LaQuinton Ross had eight points in 20 minutes off the bench for the Buckeyes (16-4, 6-2 Big Ten), who remain only one game back in the loss column behind Big Ten leaders Michigan, the nation’s top ranked team, and No. 3 Indiana.
Traevon Jackson, the son of former Buckeyes great Jimmy Jackson, led the Badgers (14-7, 5-3) with 12 points and Jared Berggren added 11. After knocking off then-No. 12 Illinois and Indiana in back-to-back games in mid-January, Wisconsin has lost three of its last four Big Ten games.
“They’ve got a good team,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “Thomas is the best player we’ve played against. He can attack so well and he is so strong. His mid-range game is what hurt us the most tonight.”
Wisconsin’s plan was working to perfection when it was leading 41-37 with 13:00 minutes remaining in the game. The Badgers were entrenched in a low-scoring affair, were holding the ball on offense late in the shot clock and making it difficult for Ohio State to find clean looks at the basket.
Then Thomas decided he was done playing slow.
After Lenzelle Smith Jr. scored a basket to bring the Buckeyes within two, Thomas rattled off the next six points in less than three minutes, helping Ohio State change the pace of the game. LaQuinton Ross added a three before Thomas scored four more quick points, putting the Buckeyes ahead 52-41 with 6:31 remaining in the game.
“I wanted to attack and keep attacking,” Thomas said. “I didn’t want to let them try to stop me. I was trying to be the enforcer out there, and I think I did that. I kept moving, was in attack mode and then I started to feel it.”
During Ohio State’s 15-point spurt, Wisconsin went scoreless for more than seven minutes, all while missing on all seven of their shot attempts and turning the ball over three times. By the time Ben Burst hit a three-pointer to end the Badgers’ drought, the Buckeyes had already seized control of the game.
“Without a doubt, this is right there at the top (of best games he’s played in his career) with his overall offensive effectiveness,” Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said.
Wisconsin got back into the game after Ohio State’s run with back-to-back threes from Brust and Berggren to get within five, and even had possession with a chance to cut the lead even more.
But guard Shannon Scott stole a pass from Jackson and took it all the way to the hoop for the layup and the foul. After hitting the free throw, Scott put Ohio State up 55-47 with 3:37 remaining in the game. The Badgers never got back within five.
“The biggest thing is to get the lead,” Craft said. “We didn’t do anything special, we just took it one possession at a time and made sure we didn’t waste any possessions because we knew we couldn’t against Wisconsin.”
Wisconsin led 26-24 at halftime, but the Buckeyes scored seven of the final nine points heading into the break.
A two-handed dunk by Berrgren put Wisconsin up by its largest margin of the game at 24-17 with 1:49 remaining in the first half, a rather large advantage given the pace of the game. The Buckeyes, however, responded to the deficit quickly.
On the ensuing possession, Thomas was fouled while shooting from beyond the arc and knocked down all three free throws. After an OSU stop, Craft drove right and finished a layup while drawing a foul. After Craft missed the free throw attempt, OSU got another opportunity when the ball deflected off Wisconsin as it tried to corral the rebound.
Craft again drove right and drew another foul, this time knocking down both free throws to tie the game at 24. Wisconsin got the final bucket of the half when George Marshall’s layup attempt was goaltended by Sam Thompson.
Now having won three consecutive games, Ohio State is next in action Saturday at Nebraska before traveling to No. 1 Michigan on Tuesday.
“It was a big win,” Thomas said. “We knew Wisconsin was going to be a tough team and I am happy we got hot in the second half and took care of business. Now its on to the next game.”
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