Stifling defense and a flurry of threes in the first half allowed the Wisconsin Badgers (7-6 Big Ten, 14-10 overall) to hold off the Ohio State Buckeyes (5-7, 15-8) for a comfortable 70-57 win.
Wisconsin took a 18-15 lead with 8 minutes to go in the first half with a three pointer from junior guard Trevor Anderson and never gave it up, setting the pace with a 16-0 run in the final four minutes of the half to take a commanding 38-20 lead into the break.
Back-to-back-to-back three points from senior guard Brevin Pritzl and junior guard D’Mitrik Trice with two minutes to go in the period punctuated the scoring spree. UW shot 43 percent in the first including 8-for-18 threes, but Pritzl said getting stops was more important than the high powered shooting.
“The biggest key [during the run] was just locking them down defensively,” Pritzl said.
The Badgers held the Buckeyes to 32 percent from the floor and forced nine turnovers before the break, all while posting 5 blocks and 3 steals as UW was extra aggressive on that side of the ball.
Head coach Greg Gard said he was proud of the players for responding after a tough loss against Minnesota last time out. Gard noted how the whole team did well in working together in the team’s best defensive game to date.
“It was good to see them play that well together,” Gard said.
Ohio State came out the second half with a quick 7-0 run to chip away at the Wisconsin lead, then Pritzl came alive once again.
A three pointer from the midcourt logo, an acrobatic layup and another three put the Badgers back up 56-33. Pritzl led UW in scoring with 19 points off the bench — Wisconsin had a total of 30 bench points — hit 5-for-6 from three and had a good time out there.
“It’s fun when shots go in,” Pritzl said.
Junior forward Aleem Ford was one rebound shy of a double-double, finishing with 10 points and 9 rebounds. During the win over Michigan State, Gard said Ford had the best game of his career and he was once again impressed with the Georgia-native.
“I thought he was active. He had a big rebound late, got to the free throw line. He contributed in a lot of good, positive ways,” Gard said.
Ford seemed more confident and assertive on the floor the past few weeks, and he said he is feeding off the energy and taking his chances.
“There’s been more opportunities so I’ve been trying to take advantage of that and be more aggressive,” Ford said. “I’m playing with a little more emotion as well.”
Wisconsin once again responded to a week of adversity with a potentially confidence-building home win. The Badgers have dominated at home, extending their record to 11-1 in the Kohl Center with wins over teams like Maryland, Michigan State and Marquette in their back pocket.
On the road has been another story. Like much of the Big Ten, Wisconsin has struggled away from home with a 3-6 record.
UW will take another road trip Saturday to Lincoln where they’ll take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers (2-10, 7-16) in what on paper looks to be an easy matchup. But with the depth of the Big Ten, Gard is hoping the team will keep focus and build their first winning streak since January.
“We’re gonna have our handsful next Saturday night at Nebraska,” Gard said. “There’s no easy night [in the Big Ten].”