But a career-night from Badger senior Zach Morley prevented the Buckeyes from getting over the hump as Wisconsin prevailed 60-49 in a Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal at the United Center here. The third-seeded Badgers (21-7 overall) survive to play again Saturday afternoon, when they will face seventh-seeded Iowa (21-10).
Morley scored a career-high 23 points on 8 of 11 shooting from the field and 6 of 6 from the free throw line to help UW pull out a hard-fought win, which spelled the end of the season for Ohio State (20-12).
"Zach Morley had 23 points, I left him in the game too long," UW head coach Bo Ryan jokingly commented after the game. "It was one of those ‘you had to be theres.'"
On a night where UW's regular top two scorers—sophomore Alando Tucker and senior Mike Wilkinson—combined for 9 of 28 shooting from the field, it was the unexpected source of Morley who equaled their outputs in nearly half as many shots.
And Morley did it in a variety of ways—from the line, in the paint and on the perimeter—and also at the most crucial points in the game.
"Any night would've been a good night," Morley said. "To come out there tonight and have the shots fall, got my confidence up and my teammates were able to find me open spots and I was able to knock them down."
For the game, Morley shot 73 percent, but the Badgers as a whole could only connect on 39 percent.
UW started the game 1-for-8 from the field and fell behind 8-2 in the opening five minutes. However, the Badgers then rattled off a 23-4 run in the next 11:48 to build a 25-12 advantage.
With all the momentum in the game, Wisconsin went into halftime up 29-18 and ready to cruise to the finish.
However, Ohio State had other ideas.
Using a run of their own, the Buckeyes outscored the Badgers 10-2 in the first four minutes to cut the UW lead to three.
Wisconsin's lone basket in the span was a finger roll from Morley. But as a whole, the team continued to draw iron when they could even muster a shot.
Coming out of halftime, the Buckeyes stepped up their intensity defensively and on top of holding UW to only four shots, they also forced three turnovers.
With Ohio State back in the game and seemingly grabbing the momentum, the Buckeyes came all the way back to tie it at 37-37 with a Terrence Dials hook shot with 10:55 remaining.
"Ohio State played really hard," Ryan said. "They made a run there in the second half where they just refused to give in to what was going on and that made it…that was a tight game."
Knotted at 39, the Badgers needed someone to match Ohio State's punches and, as he did all night, it was Morley who responded.
Morley connected on a 3-pointer with 9:50 to go to give the Badgers a three-point lead and answered a Dials layup with an 18-foot jumper to keep the UW lead at three.
But again, Ohio State battled back.
Down only one (48-47) with 4:20 to go, the Buckeyes were again within one possession of taking the lead.
Morley, however, was not going to allow Ohio State to complete its comeback.
He hit another deep jumper to push UW up three. And with 3:09 left, Morley banked in a shot to put Wisconsin up 54-49.
Morley's basket started an 8-0 UW run to finish the game.
"Zach came up big," said Wilkinson, who finished with 12 points. "He stepped on the floor and ever since he got on the floor, he did things at both ends to help us and that's what we need. He came in and hit some big shots, made some big stops, got some big rebounds and played pretty good ‘d'. He just contributed in every aspect."
Morley also added seven rebounds on the night.
Although the final score may not show it, the Buckeyes gave the Badgers all they could handle Friday night, but when it mattered most down the stretch, UW tightened up defensively and held Ohio State to only one field goal in the final 4:20.
At the same time, Wisconsin executed offensively and outscored the sixth-seeded Buckeyes 12-2 over the same four-minute span.
"It was good defense on both [sides]," Ryan said. "Both teams were scrappy, there was a lot of contact, but it was play-on type contact."
And that's exactly what the Badgers get to do: play on.
The win puts Wisconsin in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament for the second straight year.
They will take on Iowa Saturday at 3:05 p.m., following the Hawkeyes' 71-69 upset of No. 13 and second-seeded Michigan State (22-6) prior to the Badgers' game Friday night.