COLUMBUS, Ohio - Going on only two days of rest after wrapping up the outright Big Ten title and facing a ranked program that had won nine of its last 10 senior days, it was unknown what kind of performance the University of Wisconsin was going to deliver.
The answer? An absolutely dominant one.
Playing for pride and a chance at a No.1 seed in the NCAA tournament, No.6 Wisconsin looked as good as it has all season during the clinic it put on during its 72-48 victory over No.23 Ohio State at Value City Arena to end the regular season.
Wisconsin (28-3, 16-2 Big Ten) put three players in double figures, dominated the glass to the tune of a 41-27 edge and held the Buckeyes (22-9, 11-7) to a season-low point total and 29 points below their season average.
No matter the outcome, Wisconsin was already locked into the top seed in this week’s Big Ten tournament, playing Friday morning against the winner of No.8 Illinois (19-12, 9-9) and No.9 Michigan (15-15, 8-10). After this latest performance, they will be the heavy, heavy favorite.
“We’re just playing real well right now,” said senior Frank Kaminsky, who is making it look easy after scoring 20 points (his third straight game of at least 20) and five rebounds. “I’m excited about the tournament we have in front of us. We’ll see what happens.”
Following Wisconsin’s win over Michigan State last Sunday, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan quipped the Badgers needed to see improvement in both 3-point field goal shooting and bench production entering tournament play. In two hostile environments, the Badgers have delivered.
After shooting 10-for-20 Thursday at Minnesota to wrap-up the outright league title, Wisconsin went 7-for-21 against Ohio State, including a pair from Bronson Koenig (15 points) on a decisive 20-2 run in the second half that effectively ended the game.
“It’s never easy to win in the road,” said Kaminsky. “They got the lead down to seven points, and we made some big plays and blew the game open for us.”
Sam Dekker added 10 points and eight rebounds, Nigel Hayes had eight points and eight rebounds in his first game in his home state and Josh Gasser had five points and six rebounds as Wisconsin shot 31-for-62. As good as the starters were, the Badgers got their biggest lift from their bench.
Getting only 21 points off the bench over their last eight games, Wisconsin’s three-man crew of Duje Dukan, Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter all simultaneously broke out from their shooting woes by scoring 14 points on 6-for-13 shooting – the most from the reserves since Jan.20.
Brown hit a mid-range jump shot spelling Kaminsky, giving the sophomore just his second basket in the last seven games, and scored the final points; Showalter attacked the rim and drew a foul for an old-fashioned 3-point play and Dukan scored all his points in the first half.
The bench scored a combined 12 points in the opening 11:34 of the game, one more point that that group had contributed in the previous five games combined.
“It was great that they scored points, but even when they came off the court, the contributions that they made, we were very excited about what they did defensively,” said Wisconsin assistant coach Lamont Paris. “Vitto had a couple defensive possessions he did really good on, and Showalter did the same thing, harass the ball and made some good hard chases off the screen. The fact that they scored was just icing on the cake.”
All eight Wisconsin players who played in the first half scored, helping the Badgers shoot 51.7 percent. It was the complete opposite from Ohio State. The conference leader in field goal percentage (49.3), the Buckeyes shot 28.6 percent (8-for-28) in the first half, including starting 2 of 13 with four turnovers in 16 possessions.
Ohio State finished at 34.0 percent and freshman D’Angelo Russell – the likely Big Ten Freshman of the Year – needed 18 shots and 12 second-half points to finish with a team-high 17.
“One thing we said we wanted to do was make him work defensively, and I think we did a good job with that,” said Paris. “I thought we also did a really good job when we were on defense and he was on offense in the ball screen situations. We made him make some decisions, put some indecision in his mind as to whether he was going to attack the rim or pull up for a jump shot. By the time he made that decision, a lot of times it was a contested jump shot, which is what we wanted.”
Down by as many as 17 points, the Buckeyes pulled to 46-39 on a 9-0 run with Russell scoring the first six points and then assisting to Jae'sean Tate, who finished with 13, for a three-point play.
But after going four minutes, 29 seconds without a field goal, Wisconsin ripped off a 20-2 run that was started by consecutive 3-pointers by Koenig, the second one coming after three offensive rebounds. Koenig scored 10 points on the run, including the first eight, Kaminsky had six and the Buckeyes never threatened again.
“We want to win every game, obviously like everyone else does, but I think a lot of times you get in a situation where there aren’t any implications as far as seeding in your conference tournament, guys can let off the glass a little bit,” said Paris. “You come into a hostile environment against a really good team – a top 25 team – and get a win like that keeps your momentum going. Guys know this team could be pretty good.”