Feb. 4, 2012
No. 3 Ohio State wasn’t going to give No. 19 Wisconsin a shot at another comeback.
Sullinger scored 24 points and Buford hit a critical 3-pointer down the stretch, helping the Buckeyes beat the Badgers 58-52 on Saturday.
Sullinger was shocked when he wasn’t double-teamed on defense to start the game, and he pounced immediately.
“I don’t think I saw single coverage since first part of the season of my freshman year,” Sullinger said. “When I saw that, I got excited. I decided to go to work.”
Deshaun Thomas scored 16 points and Buford added 11 for the Buckeyes (20-3, 8-2 Big Ten), who held onto their lead in the conference standings. Sullinger also had 10 rebounds.
With the victory, Ohio State ended a nine-game losing streak to Wisconsin in Madison – and avoided a repeat of last year’s comeback by the Badgers, who erased a second-half deficit to defeat the Buckeyes 71-67.
“What happened last year is last year,” said Sullinger, who became the 48th Ohio State player to score 1,000 career points. “We won, and that was the main goal.”
Ryan Evans scored 14 points for the Badgers (18-6, 7-4), who were 5 for 27 from 3-point range.
Wisconsin has lost four home games in a season for the first time under Badgers coach Bo Ryan.
Inconsistent 3-point shooting – and a failure to find other ways to score – has dogged the Badgers. But that didn’t mean Ohio State coach Thad Matta was happy to see Wisconsin put up so many 3s.
“I was nervous as hell every time they let it go,” Matta said.
The Badgers had no early answer for Sullinger. He scored the Buckeyes’ first nine points, consistently getting the best of the player assigned to defend him, Jared Berggren. Sullinger finished the first half with 16 points.
“I let him get a couple of easy ones early, and that set the tone,” Berggren said. “A great player like him, once he gets a little bit of confidence, he’s hard to stop. A lot of it came early on. I let him get going. I’ve got to take a little blame myself for that one.”
Sullinger had a tougher time to start the second half, taking an elbow to the face from Berggren on the defensive end and later missing an easy layup after he’d badly beaten a defender on the baseline.
Wisconsin later went to smaller but more mobile players, Evans and Mike Bruesewitz, in an attempt to slow down Sullinger.
Ryan said he “just wanted people who wanted to move their feet and not allow a pass to enter the post” against Sullinger. Ryan called it an “easy decision” but didn’t directly criticize the 6-foot-10 Berggren.
“I’m not going to sell out any particular players or anything,” Ryan said.
Buford said he urged Sullinger to take advantage of the way he was being defended.
“Bo Ryan is a great coach, I’m sure he had a strategy that he knew he was going to work,” Buford said. “Me personally, I don’t think you should put just one person on (Jared). That’s just me personally.”
Trailing 47-40 with 6:22 left, Wisconsin went on a 10-4 run, cutting Ohio State’s lead to one on a 3-pointer by Mike Bruesewitz with 3:46 left.
“We told our guys through that stretch we were playing with fire,” Matta said.
But Sullinger came up with a steal, and Buford hit a 3-pointer on the other end to give the Buckeyes a 54-50 lead with 2:27 left. Buford struggled at times with his shooting, especially over the past month, but showed the Buckeyes still can count on him.
“I’ve got great faith in William,” Matta said. “That was a big, big-time shot for us.”
It was the only 3-pointer the Buckeyes hit all day, going 1 for 7. Until then, they were in danger of going without a made 3-pointer for the first time since a loss at Penn State on Jan. 10, 2004.
Saturday’s game came after a few days’ worth of tension between the schools’ athletic departments, centered on a dispute between their respective football programs.
Badgers football coach Bret Bielema hinted during his news conference on Wednesday’s national signing day that new Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer was using “illegal” recruiting tactics. Bielema didn’t provide specifics. Meyer and Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith subsequently issued statements defending their recruiting practices. Meyer said “no one on this staff did anything illegal or unethical.”
But that didn’t have any bearing on Saturday’s game. The Buckeyes were just happy to get a win in what typically has been a tough place to play.
“It was kind of big because no one ever won here,” Buford said. “This is my last time coming here. Of course, I wanted to get the win, and coach Matta, I’ve never seen him so happy.”