In a battle of ranked teams, it was No. 13 Wisconsin coming away with a 78-68 win Thursday night over No. 16 Ohio State at the Kohl Center.
Player of the Game: Tyler Wahl
The last time these two teams played Wahl scored three points and was one of several big men that got challenged to step up and be more physical by star guard Johnny Davis after the game. Thirty-three days later Wahl did everything he could to make sure there would be nothing to critique him for this time around.
Wahl had a monster first half, scoring 12 points, grabbing six rebounds (two offensive), and dishing out five assists. He also played a role in slowing big man EJ Liddell, who went 1-for-5 with three turnovers as the Badgers led by 13 at the break. Liddell had more success in the second half, totaling 18 points for the game, and helped Ohio State get to within 61-55. But Wisconsin answered with a big run of its own that was highlighted by a steal and dunk from Wahl.
The junior finished with 20 points (8-for-10), seven rebounds and six assists, while also hitting his first two 3-pointers of the season. It followed up a career-high 21 points against Maryland and over the last four games he is averaging 15.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists while shooting 75.8% from the field.
The good: Winning without offensive greatness from Johnny Davis
Wisconsin is where it is this season because of Johnny Davis. He is a national player of the year contender, a potential NBA lottery pick and has a chance to become the first Badgers player to average more than 20 points per game since 1995. But the sophomore guard did not have his best performance of the season Thursday night. He scored 14 points but went just 4-for-18 from the field.
One of the biggest questions for the team was could it win a game against a quality opponent without Davis putting up monster offensive numbers and the answer turned out to be yes. The Badgers got 25 points from Brad Davison, Wahl’s 20 and then nine from Steven Crowl.
Davis contributed in other ways (seven rebounds, two assists) but Wisconsin’s effort without his normal offensive production feels very important for the Badgers’ chances of chasing a second Big Ten title in three years.
The not so good: Not putting Ohio State away
Wisconsin has won 14 of its 16 games this year but has not always made it easy on itself. Already boasting three games in which they led by 20 or more points only to see teams rally to get within at least three, the Badgers allowed the Buckeyes some hope twice in the second half.
Ohio State trimmed a 17-point lead with 13:35 left into just a 6-point advantage for Wisconsin with 5:52 remaining. After the Badgers took back control of the game with a 13-2 run, the Buckeyes got back to six with :55 seconds to go.
Coach Greg Gard’s club was able to close things out with a double-digit win but it feels at times they are playing on the edge of a cliff by not putting teams away.
Stat of the Game: 10-for-23
That was what Wisconsin shot from beyond the arc, with six different players hitting at least one 3-pointer. It was the Badgers most made triples since also hitting 10 against Marquette, while their 43.5% shooting percentage was the second-best all year. For a team that came in hitting just 29.6% of their shots from deep, the aim from distance was a welcome sight.
Big step for the Badgers tonight. It’s one thing to win when Johnny Davis is playing like the NPOY and carrying them. Winning big games when he has an off night is another level. My excitement keeps building with this squad!
— After missing a game with a lower body injury, guard Jahcobi Neath returned to action Thursday. He played just five minutes but did a 3-pointer.
— Wisconsin earned its seventh Quad 1 win. Coming into the day, no other team had more than four such wins.
— Johnny Davis appeared to tweak his ankle in the first half while scrambling for a loose ball. He stayed in the game with a slight limp before eventually heading to the locker room with less than a minute left in the half. The injury turned out not be serious, as Davis would return and play nearly the entire second half.
— Wisconsin improved to 14-2 on the season, its best start since the 2014-15 season. That group would go on to win the Big Ten regular-season title, the conference tournament title and make it all the way to the national championship game.
Wisconsin (14-2, 5-1) will travel to Northwestern (8-6, 1-4) to face the Wildcats next Tuesday.