Buckeyes Get Win In Kohl Center

The No. 3 Ohio State basketball team knocked off No. 19 Wisconsin in the Kohl Center for the first time in the last 10 tries. The Buckeyes not only avenged their loss to the Badgers last year, but the team extended its close lead in the Big Ten standings.

Ohio State's 58-52 win at Wisconsin on Feb. 4 was likely a little sweeter than other conference victories for Jared Sullinger given the circumstances surrounding last year's contest in the Kohl Center.

But leading the No. 3 Buckeyes (20-3, 8-2) to their first win in Madison under coach Thad Matta while simultaneously helping the team extend their lead to 1½ games over the Badgers in the Big Ten standings is probably more than enough for the sophomore All-America big man.

"I'm going to state the obvious: it's a great win," Matta said moments after the Buckeyes snapped its nine-game Kohl Center losing streak. "I think when you look at Wisconsin basketball, it has stood the test of time. How many times we, and a lot of other teams, have come in here and gone home without a win – it definitely is a good win for our program."

Back in the Kohl Center for the first time since losing 71-67 on Feb. 12, 2011 – a game where the Buckeyes' 24-game winning streak to start the season was ended and Sullinger was allegedly spit on by fans rushing the floor after the game – the sophomore scored Ohio State's first nine points before finishing with a game-high 24 points and 10 rebounds.

Helping Sullinger, who played all 40 minutes in the contest, was sophomore Deshaun Thomas, who scored 16 points and grabbed six rebounds, and senior William Buford, who added 11 points.

Ryan Evans led the way for the No. 19 Badgers (18-6, 7-4) with 14 points, but the Buckeyes' snapped Wisconsin's six-game winning streak while extending their own to five-straight.

Ohio State had issues finishing big games on the road this season and despite leading for most of the game Wisconsin looked poised to complete the comeback when Mike Brusewitz knocked down a three-pointer with 3:35 remaining to bring the Badgers within a point.

This time, though, Ohio State would not come up short. The Buckeyes forced turnovers on two of Wisconsin's following three possessions on a steal from Sullinger and a charge taken by Lenzelle Smith Jr. to slow the Badgers' offensive momentum.

"We told our guys through that stretch, we were playing with fire and we had a let up there and they were scoring pretty easily on us," Matta said of Wisconsin, who erased a Buckeye lead that was once seven points by scoring on five-straight possessions. "The thing that we told them was, you have to stick to what we're doing."

The lone senior Buford, who had a rough game shooting the ball, picked the perfect time to bury Ohio State's only three-pointer of the game when he knocked down a crucial triple to extend the Buckeyes' lead to 54-50 with 2:27 remaining.

"It was designed," Matta said of Buford's three. "We felt like with Jared (Sullinger) coming under, (Josh) Gasser was going to stay home and help, and Will came up and drove his legs. It was obviously a big-time shot. I've got great faith in William and that was a big, big time shot for us."

Wisconsin point guard Jordan Taylor – who scored 21 of his 27 points in the second half of Wisconsin's win over the Buckeyes in Madison a year ago – committed his second turnover with less than 1:30 remaining in the game with a travel.

Though Aaron Craft missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 3:11 remaining in the game and his team clinging to only a 1-point advantage, the sophomore point guard knocked down both of his free throw attempts after Taylor's turnover to extend the Buckeyes' lead to six with 58.7 remaining.

"It was kind of big because no one ever won here," Buford said. "This is my last time coming here. Of course, I wanted to get the win, and coach Matta, I've never seen him so happy."

Perhaps Sullinger was motivated out of the gates because of what happened to him in Madison a year ago. Tactically speaking, however, Sullinger's quick start could be attributed to Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan opting not to double-team him at the beginning of the game.

It was Wisconsin's Jared Berggren who drew the assignment of single-handedly covering one of the best big men in college basketball, but it didn't go the way Ryan envisioned it. Sullinger, who knocked down five of his first six shots, got to the rim with ease and never looked back.

"I let him get a couple of easy ones early, and that set the tone," Berggren said. "A great player like him, once he gets a little bit of confidence, he's hard to stop. A lot of it came early on. I let him get going. I've got to take a little blame myself for that one."

Sullinger has become accustomed to being covered by at least two – if not more – opposing defenders. When he saw Wisconsin had only one player assigned to slow him down, it made the sophomore even hungrier to attack.

Not acknowledging any added fuel for the spitting incident a year ago, Sullinger said his performance was as simple is wanting to get the win this year. Sullinger scored 16 of his points in the first half while leading the Buckeyes to a 28-24 lead at the break.

"I don't think I saw single coverage since first part of the season of my freshman year," said Sullinger, who became the 48th Buckeye to score at least 1,000 career points. "When I saw that, I got excited. I decided to go to work. What happened last year is last year. We won, and that was the main goal."

Though not having an answer for Sullinger was certainly an issue for the Badgers, not being able to convert from beyond the arc may have contributed even more to Wisconsin's low offensive output.

Just less than half of Wisconsin's 55 field goal attempts were from beyond the three-point line, but the Badgers – which typically make opposing teams pay from long range – made only five attempts despite generally enjoying open looks.

"I was nervous as hell every time they let it go," said Matta, who saw Wisconsin erase a 15-point second half deficit a year ago after getting hot from long range. "They had good looks, they just didn't go down for them."

Matta said he'll briefly enjoy his first win in the Kohl Center before focusing on what many consider to be a brutal schedule in the second half of the conference slate.

"I was happy, but I don't know if I was like an elated state," he said. "But for these guys, William Buford was 0-3 in here and I was 0-and-6. So, yeah I was happy – it beats the last six times I was here."

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