COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)—They’ll seldom win a slam-dunk contest or get featured on a SportsCenter highlight. Heck, most of them don’t look like they could touch the rim.
About all that’s impressive about the Wisconsin Badgers is how hard they play, particularly on that unglamorous half of the game known as defense.
Jason Bohannon came off the bench to score 16 points and the 11th-ranked Badgers relied on their gritty defense to hold off Ohio State 58-53 on Sunday.
“We played some great defense, especially down the stretch when they were trying to get the (tying) 3-pointer,” Bohannon said. “They didn’t really get a clean look at the hoop.”
The Buckeyes didn’t score over the last 3:15 and had only one field goal in the final 8 1/2 minutes. For much of that time, they were within a shot of catching the Badgers. But the Badgers weren’t having any of that.
Part of that was due to the young Buckeyes’ shot selection, but most of it was Wisconsin’s physical, stifling defense, which allows just 55.4 points a game, second best in the nation.
“On defense, they locked up and we locked up,” Wisconsin’s Brian Butch said. “It was a typical Big Ten finish. We just happened to make a few more plays on the defensive end. It’s not like we made a lot of plays on the offensive end, but it was plays at the defensive end that won that game for us.”
The victory moved the Badgers (23-4, 13-2) a half-game ahead of Purdue and Indiana for the Big Ten lead heading into the final two weeks of play.
Wisconsin used a late 9-0 run to take the lead and then put the clamps on Ohio State (17-10, 8-6).
“We had ourselves in position and we talked about it all week: we were going to have to make some plays,” Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said. “We were where we wanted to be and it just didn’t go down.”
Michael Flowers had 14 points and Marcus Landry 10 for the Badgers.
Jamar Butler, Ohio State’s captain and leading scorer, was held out of the starting lineup by Matta for an undisclosed “coach’s decision.” Matta said he liked the lineup he started and had worked with those five players most of the week, yet Butler was on the floor for the final 36 minutes.
He led the Buckeyes with 14 points, Kosta Koufos adding 10 points and 10 rebounds. Ohio State has lost four of its last six.
The Buckeyes led 49-47 after Jon Diebler, who ended Butler’s consecutive start streak at 95 games, hit a 3-pointer at the 8:34 mark but the Badgers retook the lead with a nine-point burst.
Flowers evened things when he stole the ball and scored on a layup. After Butler missed a 3, Bohannon arched a long 3 from in front of the bench for a 52-49 Wisconsin lead.
Flowers then hit a midrange jumper and Landry hit a pair of foul shots to make it 56-49 while the Buckeyes fired up errant 3s. They missed four shots in a row and had a turnover during the Badgers’ run.
Asked what the Badgers focused on during those final few minutes, Bohannon said it was relatively simple.
“Just play hard, tough defense, tough-nosed defense—exactly how coach (Bo) Ryan teaches,” he said. “We had to do all the little things: wrap around those screens, stay with our guys, play great help defense. And we did all of those.”
A drive by Evan Turner and two Butler free throws cut Ohio State’s deficit to 56-53, but the Buckeyes could never get a clutch shot to fall. Butch snuffed a prime shot on an inbounds play.
“It’s really undescribable right now, you know?” Buckeyes backup forward Matt Terwilliger said. “I mean, I really can’t find the words to tell you. Coach Matta told us that at some point something’s going to go our way.”
Not on this night.
On their final possession, Butler hurried to get off a long 3-pointer than missed the rim and went out of bounds with 18 seconds left. Marcus Landy then took a long pass and dunked to put the lead out of reach.
“Hard-fought. Tough. Tough to get good looks,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said of the game. “But, you know, that kind of basketball can help you later.”