COLUMBUS, Ohio -- In the Big Ten, sometimes one run is all you need to walk away with a win. That was the case on Tuesday night, when the No. 11 Ohio State men's basketball team (16-4, 6-2) used a second half spurt to seal a 58-49 victory over Wisconsin (14-7, 5-3).
Forward Deshaun Thomas led the way for the Buckeyes with 25 points and four assists in a unique game that featured multiple rarities in the box score. Thomas' most important points came in the midst of a 15-0 second half OSU run, which saw the Big Ten's leading scorer net 10 points while the Buckeyes opened up a 52-41 lead over the Badgers.
"We executed real well down the stretch," Thomas said. "We knew it was going to probably be a low-scoring game 'cause we know that's what Wisconsin likes."
Wisconsin's preference for a slower pace was evident in the first half, where the Badgers jumped out to a 24-17 lead in the first 18 minutes of action. The Buckeyes bounced back with a 7-0 run to tie the game, but a George Marshall layup with 37 seconds remaining allowed Wisconsin to take a 26-24 lead into halftime.
The Badgers stretched their lead out to as many as five points in the second half, but it was only a matter of time before the Buckeyes started brewing. Thomas' 10 points, aided by a 3-point shot from sophomore LaQuinton Ross helped OSU gain the seventh and final lead change of the night.
"Coach said we need to be aggressive. Get out in transition. Play our style of game," Thomas said of OSU coach Thad Matta's message to the team at halftime. "We knew Wisconsin wanted to slow it down, but we had to get out there and punch them in the mouth and start off with a fast tempo, and that's what we did."
Holding Wisconsin to a 19-for-52 (36.5 percent) shooting performance and scoring 13 points off of nine Badgers turnovers, Buckeyes' point guard Aaron Craft said that the real key to his team's success on Tuesday came from its effort on the defensive end.
"We really know that our greatest offense stems from our defense. We did a great job of rebounding some long rebounds. That's great opportunities to run in transition and we were able to do that," Craft said. "That's when we're at our best."
Craft added 13 points and a team-high seven rebounds to OSU's cause against Wisconsin, while Ross scored eight points in 20 minutes of action in the most significant playing time that he's seen thus far in the Big Ten season.
"Tonight, coach gave me the minutes, so I had to step up," Ross said.
The Buckeyes stretched their lead to as many as 11 points before the final buzzer sounded in a game that saw the Badgers attempt 28 three-point shots. Despite making 11 of them, Wisconsin didn't attempt a single free throw for the entire game, a stat which pleased Matta after the OSU coach said that his team fouled too much in the Buckeyes' past two games.
"We were much sounder defensively. They chose to shoot a lot of threes. I thought our positioning was better. I thought we helped better," Matta said. "That was one thing that we had talked about was trying to play harder without fouling."
It also didn't hurt OSU that it managed to shoot an astonishing 63.6 percent from the field in the second half, while only attempting five three-pointers for the entire game against the nation's No. 23rd-ranked defense.
"We were more aggressive in terms of the pace of our offense," Matta said. "We did a good job of getting open shots."
With the win, the Buckeyes still sit a game back of Big Ten leaders Michigan and Indiana, and alongside Michigan State, who also has two losses in conference play. Ohio State will return to action on Saturday, when it hits the road for a 7 p.m. tipoff with Nebraska (11-11, 2-7).