Wisconsin displayed a surprising sense of offensive urgency right from the opening tip Sunday afternoon. So maybe it shouldn't have come as a surprise when Jared Berggren fired a 3-pointer from the left wing early in the shot clock, his Badgers trailing Ohio State by one with 33 seconds remaining.
Berggren's shot snapped through the net and then he sank two free throws with 14 seconds left to seal a gritty 63-60 win. Though not many people gave the No. 16 Badgers (21-8, 10-6 Big Ten) much of a chance to beat the No. 8 Buckeyes (23-6, 11-5) in Columbus, the win filled a huge void on the Wisconsin's tournament resume. The team's sixth conference road win of the season was also its first road win against a Big Ten for ranked in the AP Top 10 since 1980.
The Badgers knew they had some unfinished business to take care of -- atoning for last week's loss at Iowa as well as convert its final chance for a marquee win this season. While Berggren and Jordan Taylor were combining for 23 second-half points, the Badger defense continued to clamp down on Ohio State star Jared Sullinger, holding him to eight points for the game.
Out of the gate, Wisconsin had a different energy about it. The Badgers scored on four of their first six possessions by attacking the paint and getting to the free throw line early. Ohio State matched UW, scoring on five of its first seven possessions before the first media timeout.
Deshaun Thomas proved to be a difficult matchup for the Badgers yet again. The sophomore forward hit 6-of-8 shots for 13 of his game-high 23 points in the first half. But Ohio State's sloppy play in the opening period nearly overshadowed the Buckeyes' hot shooting. Though OSU sank 54.5% (12-of-22) from the field, 10 turnovers allowed the scrappy Badgers to go into halftime tied at 29.
Rob Wilson gave Bo Ryan a spark off the bench for the second game in a row. His two 3-pointers were among the first half highlights Wilson would hit another early in the second half and add two key assists down the stretch.
Despite the frenetic pace of the first half, the defenses took center stage. The referees allowed a physical brand of play that they would not after the break. Down 29-26, Wisconsin held Ohio State scoreless for the final three minutes of the first half and tied the score when Taylor found Berggren for his first of three treys.
While the Badgers shot under 40% from the field, Thomas and senior William Buford (10 of his 15 points) were carrying Ohio State with Sullinger out of sync. Sullinger sat for five minutes in the first half even though he only had one foul.
In the second half, the whistles began to mount for the Badgers. Six fouls in the first four minutes helped the Buckeyes reach the bonus with just under 12 minutes left to play. Yet Wisconsin took Ohio State's punches and continued to punch back.
Though Ryan Evans struggled through a horrendous shooting night (5-of-17), he scored the first four points of the half and finished with his second double-double behind 10 points and 10 rebounds. When he rejected Sullinger's turnaround at point-blank range midway through the half, it seemed to signal that the Badgers were not going anyway.
Not that Wisconsin wasn't tested. A quick 9-0 run by Ohio State at the 10-minute marked raised doubts to be sure. But the Badgers responded like battle-tested veterans in the hostile environment, stringing together an unlikely 10-1 run of its own.
Facing an eight-point deficit at 50-42, Wilson found Berggren for a 3-pointer that bounced sky-high off the back of the rim before rattling in, pausing the Buckeye momentum. Taylor added a clutch 3-pointer two possessions later as the shot clock expired to cut the lead to three. After another Buford miss, Evans saved an offensive rebound as he was falling out of bounds by alerting finding the crafty Josh Gasser under the basket for a layup. Wisconsin then forced OSU's 12th turnover of the game and Taylor hit a buttery smooth jumper from the elbow to take a 52-51 lead with 3:47 remaining.
With Evans, Wilson and Berggren showing signs of offensive life and playmaking ability, Taylor had the breathing room to take over during "winning time." But fittingly, it was the "Ice Berg" who was coolest under pressure.
Berggren scored seven of the last nine Wisconsin points, finishing with a team-high 18 points, including a dunk off an Evans feed. Sullinger then hit a short jumper to retake the lead, 59-58, for Ohio State with 49 ticks left on the clock. Taylor proceeded to bring the ball up the court, hold it at the top of the key for a moment and then run a high pick-and-pop with Berggren, who showed no hesitation on the go-ahead trey.
Taylor led the Badgers with 19 points on stellar 6-of-8 shooting.
As Berggren was taking control of the big man matchup and Buford went cold, Aaron Craft did his best to pick up the slack offensively. The sophomore scored 11 second-half points bu missed 3-of-4 free throws in the final two minutes. In fact, the Buckeyes finished an abysmal 8-of-16 from the line in the second half (10-of-19 for the game).
Meanwhile, the Badgers proved once again capable of finishing at the charity stripe to finalize an impressive 6-3 road record in Big Ten play.
In defeat, Ohio State saw its hopes of another Big Ten title grow much more unlikely. Michigan State has clinched a share of the championship at 13-3, while the Buckeyes fell a two games behind with only two games remaining, albeit one against the Spartans to end the season.
Wisconsin's chance to earn the fourth and final bye in the Big Ten Tournament looks much better now. The Badgers hold at least a one-game edge over Purdue and Indiana in addition to the head-to-head tiebreaker over both teams.
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