Buckeyes Fend Off Badger Charge, Advance in Chicago
Ohio State and Wisconsin kicked off the 2023 Big Ten Tournament and it was the Buckeyes who emerged victorious, building a big halftime lead and held off a furious Wisconsin rally to advance to the second round, downing the Badgers 65-57, sending Wisconsin home and likely a trip to the NIT. For Ohio State, they will move on and live to fight another day, extending the lead to as large as 27 and fending off a furious Wisconsin charge which got the Badgers as close as 4 before surviving and moving on to play Iowa tomorrow. Ohio State shot 52% for the game, including 6 of 13 from three, while holding Wisconsin to 34% and just 4 of 22 from long range. The Buckeyes overcame 16 turnovers, many coming during a furious Badger rally, where the Buckeyes struggled to put the game away at the stripe as Wisconsin held Ohio State to just two field goals in the final 11:01. The Buckeyes were led by 17 from Sean McNeil, while Justice Sueing scored 16 and Bruce Thornton added 15. Brice Sensabaugh chipped in 9 points along with 11 rebounds in the win. Wisconsin was led by Tyler Wahl’s 19 and Connor Essegian’s 11.
Wisconsin kicked off the scoring with a bucket at the rim, but the Buckeyes answered in a big way.. After Roddy Gayle banked in a jumper from just above the free throw line, Justice Sueing’s triple and pull up jumper from 12 put the Buckeyes up 5. A Badger bucket stopped the 7-0 Ohio State run, but Bruce Thornton got to the rim along the right of the paint with a dribble drive and scored off the glass and at the first media timeout, Ohio State led 9-4.
More Buckeyes out of the timeout as Thornton picked off a Badger pass on the left wing and scored in transition. Wisconsin scored after an offensive rebound gave them a second opportunity, but Ohio State answered when Sean McNeil drilled a three from the right wing. Wisconsin split a pair of free throws to cut the lead, but Ice Likekele found McNeil in the middle of the lane where he dropped in a short fade away and at the under 12 media timeout, Ohio State was enjoying a 16-7 lead. Wisconsin split a pair of free throws on their first possession out of the timeout, but a short leaner off the glass by McNeil put Ohio State up 10. A pair of Badger free throws were followed by a Thornton pull up jumper from 15 and after a Badger runner fell, Brice Sensabaugh banked in a pull up jumper from the left. A Badger foul stopped the clock at the 7:35 mark of the first half and with the teams hitting the benches for the required media break, Ohio State led 22-12. Out of the timeout, McNeil drilled a straight on three and on the other end, Thornton grabbed another steal and went the distance for a lay in forcing Wisconsin to call timeout with the Buckeyes extending the lead to 27-12. A pair of Wisconsin buckets sandwiched around a Thornton deuce trimmed the lead, but Thronton drilled a triple from the left point and Ohio State had doubled up Wisconsin, 32-16. A Badger hoop and an offensive foul on Sueing sent the teams to the benches for the final media break of the first half, with Ohio State leading 32-18. A dog fight over the next 2 minutes as neither team could muster a score until Sueing was fouled attempting a three. He banged down two of the three, extending the lead back to 16. A Sensabaugh block on one end and a fade away 12 footer on the other bumped the Buckeye lead to 18 and that would be the margin at the break with Ohio State leading Wisconsin 36-18. The Buckeyes were exceptional on both ends leading to the big halftime lead, shooting 68%, including 4 of 7 from deep, while holding Wisconsin to just 30% and 0 for 7 from long range. Thanks to the lockdown defense, Ohio State dominated the first half glass, out rebounding the Badgers 16-9. The Buckeyes were led by a game high 13 from Bruce Thornton, while Sean McNeil added 10 and Justice Sueing chipped in 7. Despite only 4 first half points, Brice Sensabaugh pulled down 8 first half rebounds. Wisconsin was led by Steven Crowl, who had 6.
It took Wisconsin 2 ½ minutes to get on the scoreboard in the second half and by the time they saw a ball go down the ropes, the Buckeyes got a Felix Okpara tip in and a Sueing baseline fade away jumper to drop building on the halftime lead. After the aforementioned Badger bucket, Sensabaugh buried a three from the left wing forcing Wisconsin to call a timeout and with 16:17 left in the game, Ohio State led 43-20 with Ohio State on a 7-2 run to open the second half. The run increased to 11-2 after a pair of Thornton free throws and a Sensabaugh step back 15 footer. The Badgers scored the next 4, but Ohio State answered as Sueing spun into the lane and scored off the glass while being fouled. He knocked down the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three point play and Ohio State led by 26. The Badgers broke their three point shooting drought, drilling one from the left wing, keying a 9-0 run to trim the lead to 17, forcing Ohio State to call timeout with 11:49 to play and the Buckeye lead cut to 50-33. . Out of the timeout, McNeil banged down a left corner three to stop the run and after a defensive stop, Sensabaugh’s quick outlet to Likekle who found a streaking McNeil, who scored at the rim and Ohio State led by 22. Wisconsin answered Ohio State’s 5-0 run with a 8-0 run of their own, forcing Ohio State to call another timeout with the Badgers cutting the Buckeye lead to 55-41. After a turnover each way, the under 8 media timeout hit with the score staying the same, but the Badgers were on a 17-5 run over the past 7 minutes. Sueing increased the Buckeye lead, drilling a fade away along the left baseline to stop a 5 ½ minute Ohio State scoring drought. A Badger bucket answered but Thornton was fouled in the front court sending the game to the final media timeout and with 3:50 to play, Ohio State led 57-43. Thornton missed the front end of the one and one and Wisconsin made them pay, drilling a three to trim the lead to 11. Thornton got back to the stripe on the next possession and he missed the front end again and another Badger triple cut the lead to 8. After a Buckeye miss, Wisconsin banked in a three cutting the lead to 5. Ohio State took a timeout with 1:34 to play, clinging to a 57-52 lead as the Badgers were on a 19-2 run. A pair of McNeil free throws extended the lead to 7 with 1:20 to play. After Wisconsin missed a triple, Likekele was fouled and the senior split the pair to put Ohio State up 8. A foul on the rebound attempt of the miss of the second free throw attempt put Wisconsin on the stripe, where both dropped cutting the lead to 6 with just over a minute to play. Ohio State turned it over in the backcourt, giving the ball back to Wisconsin and a foul put the Badgers back on the line. One of two dropped, cutting the lead to 5, but a foul in the backcourt put Sueing on the line where he split the pair. Wisconsin quickly drove and scored off the glass to cut the lead to 4 and a backcourt foul sent Sueing back to the stripe. He once again split the pair and Ohio State led 62-57 with 49 seconds to play. Okpara bothered the Badger shot attempt and was fouled corralling the rebound and at the stripe, Okpara split the pair. A Badger miss and a foul put Gayle at the line where he bagged both to seal the deal and end the scoring.
A lot of credit to a desperate Wisconsin team, who was playing for their NCAA tournament lives, to claw back and make it interesting, but Ohio State controlled the game for 30 minutes in large part due to lock down defense and an active offense. The veteran Badger team turned up the pressure on Ohio State in the final 11 minutes, and the young freshmen didn’t handle it well at all, but credit where credit is due and this will be a learning experience for guys like Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle, Brice Sensabaugh and Felix Okpara. Speaking of Thornton, he has really gained a lot of confidence in the latter part of this season, developing a command of the offense that isn’t seen by many freshmen. The future’s so bright for that young kid. Felix Okpara has also shown tremendous growth as a basketball player, learning how to defend and hold his ground without fouling. He altered a lot of shots in the paint and did a great job against a pair of Wisconsin bigs. The Buckeyes clearly set the tone in this game on the defensive end, closing out on shooters and digging down in the post when necessary, making it difficult for Wisconsin to get anything easy. They will need another great performance tomorrow with a less than 24 hour turnaround to advance to play on Friday. Until then, the season stays alive for another day and boy isn’t March fun? Hopefully Ohio State can enjoy it a little while longer.
The Buckeyes advance to play 5th seeded Iowa tomorrow afternoon. Tip time is scheduled for right around 2:30 PM EDT and airing on BTN.