Thad Matta went for the hug.
The need for a victory for No. 24 Ohio State (17-5, 4-5) was apparent in Matta's postgame emotion, after a January that saw the Buckeyes drop five of their past six games before heading to Wisconsin for a tip with the 14th-ranked Badgers (17-5, 4-5). With the new month came a new result for OSU, however, as the Buckeyes earned what some will perceive to be their first quality win of the season on Saturday.
As has been the case for the better part of this year, it didn't come easy for OSU, who endured its second nail-biting finish in as many games as Wisconsin held possession of the ball with eight seconds remaining while trailing by just one point. That was only enough time for Dekker to fire off an off-balanced and ill-fated 3-point attempt, sealing the Buckeyes' big win.
Just moment earlier, an Ohio State victory seemed all but assured as the Buckeyes trimmed eight seconds off the clock before guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. took a contested fast break layup that ultimately resulted in a travel being called on the senior. That play put OSU in the enviable position of having to defend what could have been a game-winning shot by the Badgers, but unlike against Penn State on Wednesday, the tide remained turned in OSU's favor in Madison.
The Buckeyes trailed by as many as seven points in the second half as they struggled to defend freshman forward and Toledo native Nigel Hayes, who scored 17 points and grabbed five rebounds against his home state squad. After a Hayes free throw gave the Badgers a 52-45 lead with 7:35 remaining in the game, Ohio State battled back with a 10-3 run, that was capped by an Aaron Craft layup to tie the game at 55 with 3:12 remaining.
Badgers guard Ben Brust broke the tie 22 seconds later when he split a pair of free throws, but Craft soon put the Buckeyes on top with a pair of makes from the charity stripe. Hayes tied the game back up at 57 with 1:08 remaining in the regulation, but it was OSU center Amir Williams who gave the Buckeyes the final lead of the day, as split free throws with 54 and 26 seconds remaining respectively proved to be enough to send Ohio State home victorious.
The first half saw Wisconsin play to a 33-29 lead, but the Buckeyes appeared to be reenergized by not only Sam Thompson's reinsertion into the starting lineup -- in favor of Shannon Scott- but an effective bench unit that had disappeared in recent weeks. Guard Amedeo Della Valle scored 11 points, nine of which came in the first half and played a key role in OSU fighting back from what was at one point a seven-point Badgers lead.
Della Valle was aided off the bench by nine points from Scott and six from center Trey McDonald, while LaQuinton Ross led the way for the Buckeyes with 13 points on 3-of-6 shooting. Craft scored seven points -- all of which came in the second half and down the stretch for OSU, who shot 42.9 percent from the field on Saturday.
Hayes proved to be the game's leading scorer with his 17 points, while Brust added 13 for the Badgers, who connected on just three of their 17 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc. With its loss to Ohio State, Wisconsin has now dropped five of its last six games.
Having now won two of their last three games, the Buckeyes now sit in fifth place in the Big Ten standings, a week after they placed as low as eighth in the league. Ohio State will return to action on Tuesday, when the Buckeyes will again hit the road to face No. 15 Iowa (16-5, 5-3) in a 7 p.m. tipoff.