Late Three By Berggren Boosts Badgers By Buckeyes
By Ben Axelrod
In a back-and-forth game that saw 13 lead changes and neither team lead by more than eight points, it was a late 3-point shot by Jared Berggren that wound up being the difference-maker in No. 16 Wisconsin’s (21-8, 10-4) 63-60 win at No. 8 Ohio State (23-6, 11-5) on Sunday.
The Badgers’ victory in Columbus clinched a share of the Big Ten regular season championship for No. 6 Michigan State (24-5, 13-3) and spoiled senior day for OSU senior guard William Buford.
“Before the game it was cool, but our main goal was to win the game,” Buford said. “We didn’t win the game. That kind of messed up my day a little bit.”
After a three-minute stretch that saw the lead changes hands nine times, Berggren’s 3-pointer gave the Badgers the final advantage with 31 seconds left in the game. The 6-foot-10 center finished with 18 points, but no shot he hit on Sunday was bigger than the one that went on to be the game-winner.
“It was a great shot. He knocked down a big shot,” OSU forward Deshaun Thomas said. “They made big plays at the end.”
Thomas, who led the Buckeyes in scoring with 23 points on 9-for-15 shooting, had the opportunity to answer with a big play of his own on the ensuing possession, but a quick defensive recovery from Ryan Evans forced Thomas’ shot into a wild one.
“I thought I was wide-open, but he got out of that screen quick,” Thomas said. “Great defense by him, he made me change my shot up. But I can’t just let one bad shot affect me.”
Thomas’ misfire forced the Buckeyes to foul Berggren, who sank two free throws to seal the Badgers’ victory.
Berggren may have closed out the game for Wisconsin, but it was senior point guard Jordan Taylor who put the Badgers in that position by scoring a team-high 19 points- six of which came during the final four minute stretch. Even on Berggren’s 3-pointer, it was Taylor who set up the Badgers big man with the assist on his game-winner.
“That’s Jordan Taylor,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “Boy, he really came up big for us.”
The Buckeyes weren’t helped by a 10-turnover first half that helped negate a 54.5 shooting percentage and allowed the Badgers to head into halftime with the score tied at 29. Similarly concerning for OSU was its 10-for-19 performance from the free throw line that saw the Buckeyes miss eight of their 16 attempts in the second half.
Three of those misses came from Jared Sullinger, who after scoring 24 points and pulling down 10 rebounds in the Buckeyes’ Feb. 4 win in Madison, scored eight points and recorded six rebounds in Sunday’s rematch. After the game, OSU coach Thad Matta admitted that his leading scorer and rebounder may not have been at 100 percent.
“He was battling a cold but he’s played with a lot worse than that,” Matta said. “When Jared’s playing his best basketball, he’s engaged and into it."
Matta and the Buckeyes- who have now lost three of their past five games- will need a fully-engaged Sullinger to have any shot at earning a third-consecutive Big Ten title with two regular season games remaining. That would require Michigan State to lose its final two games and for the Buckeyes to win their final two, starting with a Wednesday match-up at Northwestern (8:30 PM, Big Ten Network).
“Just understanding how much a grind the season is and how important every game is,” OSU point guard Aaron Craft said.
We have two games left in the regular season and it feels like we got started a week ago. It’s just something that we need to continue to work on. We can’t keep our heads down.”