Thad Matta has accomplished a lot of things during his tenure as head coach of the Buckeyes but on Saturday he and his team were able to cross something off of his Bucket List as Ohio State (20-3, 8-2) won for the first time at the Kohl Center under Matta with a thrilling 58-52 over Wisconsin (18-6, 7-4) in a slugfest. The win gives Ohio State a little bit of room now in the Big Ten race with eight more league games to go.
Jared Sullinger led the way for the Buckeyes with 24 points and ten rebounds but made his biggest impact in the first half where account for 16 of Ohio State's 28 points. DeShaun Thomas had 16 points for Ohio State while William Buford threw in 11 with seven of them coming in the second half when Ohio State needed them most.
The Badgers had four players make it to double figures but there wasn't the offensive explosion this time around from Jordan Taylor that Badger fans saw last season when he put Wisconsin on his back and willed the home team to victory. He was held to a pedestrian 12 points on 4-10 shooting. Ryan Evans led the Badgers with 14 points.
Ohio State's offense was made up of only Sullinger, Thomas and Buford for the first 21:46 of the game before Lenzelle Smith, Jr. converted an old-fashioned three point play with a nice drive to the bucket and foul shot. The combination of Smith and Aaron Craft scored seven points on 2-5 shooting but Ohio State needed every point winning by only six points.
Neither team was able to build up much of a lead at any point. Ohio State held a five point lead in the first half and then watched that disappear as Wisconsin would go on an 8-0 run to go up 18-15 after Mike Bruesewitz grabbed an offensive board and got a put back to give the Badgers an 18-15 lead. Wisconsin would hold the lead again at 20-19 but never again for the rest of the afternoon, but the game was not without drama.
Both teams were dismal from distance as the Buckeyes would only hit one three pointer (Buford connected late to give Ohio State a 54-50 lead, the make extended Ohio State's streak to 285 games with a made three-pointer, last game without was 2004 versus Penn State) while the Badgers went a staggering 5-27 from distance (18.5-percent). Ohio State's defense cannot take much credit for great 3-point defense with many shots going up uncontested but nobody was able to hit more than one outside of Jared Berggren who went 2-6 to lead all shooters.
The Bucks would extend the lead to as many as seven points and went up 47-40 after a Sullinger bucket in the second half, the big man was not able to make the three point play however and it kept Wisconsin close in the game.
Bruesewitz would hit a three pointer with less than four minutes to go to close the game to 51-50 and would have a look at taking the lead after Craft missed the front end of a one-on-one. But the Badgers came up empty and Buford hit Ohio State's lone three-pointer of the game to go back up by four. The Bucks would get it back up to six after a pair of makes from the line by Craft and that six point margin would stick for the remainder of the game.
Sullinger hit a major milestone on Saturday with his 1,000th point in an Ohio State uniform. He is the 48th player to reach that plateau but has done it in a little bit more than a season-and-a-half.
Buford moved up to No. 7 all-time in scoring to pass up Jay Burson and now is closing in on fellow Toledo (Ohio) native Jimmy Jackson for No. 6 on the list. Buford sits at 1,769 and is 19 behind Jackson who had 1,785.
The Buckeyes are back home for their next game to host Purdue on Tuesday night (9:00 p.m. ET - ESPN). Ohio State will not have to make a return trip to Purdue this season with the unbalanced schedule so it will be the Bucks' only crack at the Boilers in the regular season.