Wisconsin avoided losing two straight conference home games, and its third straight overall, by using a strong second half to beat then-No.23 Maryland and move into a first-place tie with Purdue. Although Wisconsin ended its skid, the same can’t be said for an Ohio State team that has lost its third straight after falling at home to Nebraska by one.
Since Wisconsin beat Ohio State by 23 points in the first matchup, the Buckeyes are 5-6 and lost their games by an average of 6.5 points. Although Ohio State has shot 45.1 percent (78-for-173) from the field over the last three game, mistakes with the ball have played a huge role in a disappointing season in Columbus.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin (22-5, 11-3 Big Ten) as they prepare to play Ohio State (15-13, 5-10).
LAY UP: GENERATING SUCCESS FROM THREE
Wisconsin shot 12-for-22 (54.5 percent) from three in the first matchup against Ohio State but the Badgers have shot 50 percent from the perimeter only once since and that came Jan. 21. UW also hasn’t made at least 10 3-pointers since that win over the Buckeyes and are shooting 29.9 percent (56-for-187) on an average of 18.7 3-point field goal attempts in the last 10 games.
Wisconsin is 5-for-28 (17.8 percent) from three over the last two games, something that the Badgers have to improve on against an Ohio State team that allows Big Ten teams to shoot 37.4 percent over conference play. Over the last five games Ohio State’s defense has allowed teams to average 9.4 made 3-pointers.
Wisconsin went 2-for-12 from three in the win against Maryland with Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter going a combined 2-for-7. Koenig is still getting over his left calf injury but it was a good sign to see him return to the lineup Sunday and shoot 4-for-8 in the second half. Koenig is shooting 37.4 percent from three on the season and has made at least two 3-pointers in nine of his 13 conference games.
Koenig’s ability to stretch defenses has been key to creating spacing for Wisconsin’s offense. If Wisconsin can build off of its strong second half shooting against Maryland (51.5 percent from the floor) and attack the low block, the Badgers should get open perimeter looks. They’ll just need to knock them down with more consistency.
MID-RANGE JUMPER: CAN WISCONSIN CONSISTENTLY FORCE OHIO STATE INTO MISCUES?
Wisconsin shot just 7-for-25 (28 percent) from the field in the first half against Maryland, but the Badgers only trailed by six at halftime because of its ability to create turnovers and take possessions away from the Terps. The Badgers’ smothering defense caused Maryland into 11 first-half turnovers, which Wisconsin cashed into 11 of its 27 first-half points.
Turnovers have been Ohio State’s issue all season, which Badgers fans saw firsthand with UW creating 12 Ohio State turnovers that turned into 16 points. The Buckeyes have averaged 13.3 turnovers in the 11 games since playing in Madison but have averaged 15 turnovers – leading to 19.6 opponent points – over the last five games, including 18 miscues in the one-point loss to Nebraska. Over that stretch Ohio State has allowed all five teams to register at least 18 points off its miscues.
Although Ohio State has averaged 12.8 turnovers over conference play, Wisconsin’s strong defense will need to find ways of creating those extra offensive possessions in order to help kick start the offense. Three players for Ohio State – Marc Loving (2.7), JaQuan Lyle (2.6) and Jae'sean Tate (2.1) - average at least two turnovers a game and have been responsible for 40 of Ohio State’s last 75 turnovers. The three only combined for three turnovers against Wisconsin in the first match-up, but Nigel Hayes was able to play strong defense against Loving, holding the team’s second-leading scorer (12.6 points) to five points.
If Wisconsin can continues to build on its defensive performance against Maryland, the Badgers should be able to create the extra offensive possessions they need in order to control the game.
3-POINTER: PUTTING TOGETHER TWO STRONG SHOOTING PERFORMANCES
It had to be a relief for Wisconsin to finally see shots find the bottom of the net Sunday. After making only seven of field goal attempts in the first half, Wisconsin was able to establish an offensive rhythm in the second half that certainly has been lacking over the last five games.
Finishing the half 17-for-33 (51.5 percent) from the field, it marked the fifth time Wisconsin shot above 50 percent from the field over conference play and snapped a six game streak of Wisconsin shooting 45 percent or less from the field in a second half. The 17 field goals was also the most the Badgers made in a second half since the win over Ohio State (18-for-32).
The question is can Wisconsin continue to build off of how they finished the game against Maryland and avoid suffering through another shooting slump against Ohio State?
Ohio State ranks in the bottom half of the Big Ten in the major statistical defensive categories over conference play, allowing 73.8 points per game, 43.8 percent shooting from the field, 37.4 percent from 3-point range, giving up 36.8 rebounds and forcing 11.1 turnovers a game. In the first match-up, Wisconsin shot 49.3 percent (36-for-73) from the field and put up 89 points.
What helped Wisconsin put together a consistent second half against Maryland was finding a way of consistently generate points in the paint, as 22 of the Badgers’ 28 points in the paint came after halftime. Wisconsin was able to achieve that thanks to Ethan Happ generating high-quality shots and successfully passing to open shooters when Maryland tried to double.
The 20 points Happ finished with was his third 20-point game in the last five outings. Happ’s success on offense should open up opportunities for his teammates, but it will be up to them to be able to connect on their open shots like they did against Maryland. Hitting outside buckets will make life easier for Happ in the paint, as one of the reasons why Wisconsin shot the ball effectively against Ohio State was due to the Badgers registering 42 points in the paint.