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Making it rain: Wisconsin shoots Ohio State out of the gym in 79-68 win

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The threes came in bunches for the Badgers in a 79-68 win over Ohio State as Nigel Hayes made a statement with both his play and the microphone on Thursday night.

MADISON -- Resting on every seat in the Grateful Red, Wisconsin's student section, prior to the start of the Badgers contest with Ohio State on Thursday night were red cards with the number three embellished in white on the front.

Judging by Wisconsin's 2-for-14 performance from three in their previous game in their eight-point victory over Illinois on Sunday, how much use they would get in the tilt against the Buckeyes was in question.

The Badgers answered any speculation quickly.

A hot start and a dominant finish bookended Wisconsin's (14-9, 6-4) 79-68 victory over the Buckeyes (14-10, 6-5) at the Kohl Center, which was fueled by a season-high 13 three-pointers from the Badgers.

"Give them credit, they got rolling and it really became contagious," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said.

Forward Nigel Hayes scored 18 of his 21 points in the second half, guard Bronson Koenig scored 13 and forwards Ethan Happ and Vitto Brown contributed 12 points each to round out a balanced scoring attack for the Badgers.

"If I get doubled or put into a sticky situation, I can always count on my guys to help me out," Hayes said. "Ethan bringing it to the cup like he does. Bronson with the threes. Jordan with the threes, as well. Vitto with the mid-range shot for us.

"I'm not the only one, but I guess I'll take the lead singer in our rock band."

In-tune on all cylinders, the Badgers rock ensemble came onto the stage with a crowd-igniting opener.

Wisconsin rattled off the first 11 points of the game in under four minutes to set the tempo for the night at a high mark.

Later, they pulled out to a 12-point lead on an true freshman forward Alex Illikainen's triple with 9:25 to play in the second half.

Both times, however, Ohio State came clawing back to keep Wisconsin's lead within one-to-two scores.

Mired earlier in the season by their inability to pull out wins in close contests, the Badgers' resilience that has defined their winning streak once again came through. After the Buckeyes drew to within 66-63, Wisconsin scored on each of its possessions over the game's final three minutes to seal the win.

Hayes flushed home a dunk and Jordan Hill knocked down his third triple of the night with two seconds left on the shot clock to put the Badgers up 73-65.

"I love playing with him," Koenig said of the backup point guard. "He seems to hit some big shots when we need him."

Keita Bates-Diop converted a three-point play on the other end to cut the lead back down to five points with 73-68 with 85 seconds remaining.

Brown, who scored seven points during the 11-0 spurt to open the contest, knocked down an 18-footer with 56 seconds left to bury the dagger into the Buckeyes.

JaQuan Lyle's 27-point performance off the bench wasn't enough for the visitors on this night as his teammates combined to shoot just 15-of-39 from the field.

Coming into the game, Wisconsin's previous season high for three pointers was seven. Against on Ohio State team ranked 17th in adjusted defensive efficiency by KenPom.com, it had the makings of a slugfest for the Badgers.

Instead, with the Buckeyes committing to shutting down Wisconsin's forwards in the paint, it left the perimeter open for an advantageous bunch of shooters.

"We wanted to give as much support as we could down low," Matta said.

The result was 1.234 points per possession from the Badgers, 13-27 (48.1 percent) shooting from deep and connecting on 28 of 57 field goals (49.1 percent).

After Hayes missed six of his seven shots in the first half, his coach had a message for him.

"You're 1-for-7 and you haven't taken a shot inside 17 feet," interim head coach Greg Gard said. "That's all I said. And he says, ‘Gotcha, coach.'"

Hayes proceeded to take over from there, scoring six points in the paint, six from deep and six from the free throw line over the game's final 14:14. The Ohio State bench almost knew it was bound to happen eventually.

"Great player, and we felt like he was going to get going," Matta said. "...He did a great job the last 20 minutes."

At various points on Thursday night, the Badgers were playing three Buckeye State natives -- Hayes, Brown and freshman Khalil Iverson -- €”on the court at once. At that same moment, Ohio State had none.

Hayes had a message to send to the folks in Columbus.

"Nah, I'm cool," Hayes said. "They got the guys they wanted. I'll take my two Final Four, my wins and I'll carry on my merry way."

Ohio State's lone lead came during the Badgers' lone cold spell of the game as Ohio State reeled off a 22-10 run to take the lead at 22-21 advantage with 8:09 to play in the first half.

Koenig responded by snapping off two three-pointers in under 30 seconds to put the Badgers back up by five. After Ohio State drew within one point at 30-29, Jordan Hill buried a three and Happ scored on consecutive possession to put the Badgers up by eight.

Their season -- and NCAA tournament hopes -- dangling on the cliff just over three weeks ago, Gard's Badgers played once again with a new-found confidence.

"It tells us something we've known forever know, that we can play with anybody," Koenig said. "Not only in the conference, but in the country."

That claim will be tested soon enough. After a home matchup with Nebraska on February 10, Wisconsin will travel to face three of the nation's top 10 teams on the road over a four-game stretch.