COLUMBUS, OH - Not many people thought the Buckeyes (16-13, 6-10 B1G) had much of a chance against 16th-ranked Wisconsin (22-6, 11-4 B1G). Those people didn't know about the trap the Buckeyes had planned for the Badgers.
Coming off a heartbreaking one-point home loss to Nebraska the Buckeyes looked like nothing but cannon fodder for a Wisconsin team that is contending for a Big 10 regular-season championship. Wisconsin's baseline players of Nigel Hayes, Ethan Happ and Vitto Brown were averaging a combined 35.4 points per game this year, and earlier this season in Madison that trio combine for 37 points in Wisconsin's 89-66 thumping of the Buckeyes.
This time around, though, the Buckeyes had a plan.
OSU played a post-trap defense, double-teaming post players after entry passes to the post, and forced the Badgers tot try to beat the Buckeyes with perimeter offense rather than points in the paint. The strategy could not have worked better.
Hayes, Happ and Brown combined for just 11 first-half points, only two of them in the paint as the Buckeyes successfully took away Wisconsin's usually deadly inside game. It was a key element in building a surprising 44-31 lead - but certainly not the only one.
"The post-trap was something we hadn’t done," said OSU Head Coach Thad Matta.
"I thought it helped us neutralize their inside game. They crushed us in game one in the paint."
While the Buckeye defense was giving the Badgers fits OSU found an offensive flow that they have not had all season. In the first half they knocked down shots at a 51.6 percent rate from the field and 50 percent (5 of 10) from three point range. The offensive production wasn't just efficient, it was nearly unstoppable. They also completely dominated on the boards with a 23-12 half time edge in rebounding. OSU forward Jae'Sean Tate registered a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds...at the half. To top it all off, they didn't help the Badgers with sloppy play and committed just four turnovers in the half. The Buckeyes just seemed to play with more pep and energy on both ends of the floor, something Matta attributed to the post-trap defense, even on the offensive end.
"The post-trap definitely put us in that position, because we were telling our guys that the three most important guys were the guys outside of the trap. We were going to be in scramble mode, having to be having to X out and think that put a little pep in the step. It was good to see us flying around getting loose balls, that sort of thing."
Forward Jae'Sean Tate agreed.
"With the trap there isn’t a lot of time to think. You have to make it in a split second and you’re in what we call the scramble mode," said Tate.
"I think that really helped us. It took away guys being delayed and helped us on the offensive end."
OSU's recent history is littered with second-half woes and late-game collapses, but not this time around. The Badgers made their runs at OSU cutting the 13-point half time lead to just nine on three different occasions early in the second half, but each time the Buckeyes had an answer and re-extended their lead to double-digits. Eventually they led by as many as 20 in the second half when they took a 77-57 lead with 4:39 left in the game.
OSU's strong shooting continued throughout the game. First-year point guard C. J. Jackson scored a career-high 18 points on 7-11 shooting from the field that included 4 of 4 from behind the three point line. Jackson's 18 points was a team high for OSU who got contributions from everyone in the lineup. Tate finished with 15, Marc Loving 10, JaQuan Lyle 17 and Micah Potter 9. Jackson also doled out four assists and grabbed four rebounds in what was clearly his best outing as a Buckeyes.
"I’ll take that every night," said Matta.
"He was due. He’s gone through a little bit of a transition but he’s always got a smile on his face and he’s always in a good mood. I love that about him."
For the game OSU was 10-16 from three for 62.5 percent. They connected on 23 of 27 free throw attempts for an outstanding 85.2 percent from the line. OSU's 83-point scoring outburst came against a Badger defense that came into the game 4th in the nation in scoring defense having allowed just 60.5 points per game until tonight.
OSU lead by 16 at 83-67 with only 35 seconds in the game but the Badgers collected two quick threes at the end of the game to make the score look much closer than the game really was.
With their interior game struggling the Badgers turned to their perimeter players for scoring and got an outstanding effort from guard Bronson Koenig. Koenig scored a game-high 27 points on 9-15 shooting from the field that included 5 of 9 from three point range. Koenig did not get much help from his teammates however. Only one other Badger reached double figures, D'Metrik Trice with 14, and the Badgers shot just 43.9 percent from the field as a team.