Andy Gottesman / Multimedia Editor
The Ohio State men’s basketball team finished a perfect home season Sunday with a 93-65 victory against Wisconsin.
Despite already clinching the conference title outright Saturday when Purdue lost to Iowa, the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes (29-2) gave a spirited performance in seniors Dallas Lauderdale’s, David Lighty’s and Jon Diebler’s last home game.
This is the second time OSU coach Thad Matta has led a team to an undefeated home record, having accomplished the feat during the 2006–07 campaign.
The team got off to a hot start as it scored on its first four possessions, trading baskets with the Badgers. OSU went on to shoot 68 percent from the floor in the first half and matched that mark for the game.
“It was incredible how well we shot the basketball,” Matta said.
That hot shooting extended behind the 3-point line as the Buckeyes cashed in on six first-half threes on only seven attempts. The team finished 14-for-15 from behind the arc. The 93.3 percent shooting for 3-point field goals set an NCAA single-game record.
“My bad for missing,” Diebler said of accounting for the team’s only miss. “I apologize for missing that one.”
Poor shooting by Wisconsin allowed OSU to put the game away early. A layup by freshman forward Jared Sullinger with 14:16 left in the first half gave the Buckeyes a 13-11 lead they would not relinquish.
“For that 40 minutes,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said, “they were better.”
Diebler led the way for OSU with 27 points on 7-for-8 shooting from behind the arc. Diebler is 17-for-20 from three in the team’s last two games.
“He is on fire,” Ryan said. “We’ve had guys do it too, but that is a little different category with Diebler shooting threes.”
His three from the top of the arc as the half expired gave OSU a 47-32 halftime advantage.
The Buckeyes led by that exact score in Madison, Wis., on Feb. 12 before allowing the Badgers to come back and hand the Buckeyes their first loss of the season.
“That’s when we kind of let our guard down and let them feel good,” Lighty said. “It was something that was mentioned at halftime.”
History did not repeat itself.
The Badgers struggled shooting the ball, connecting on only 42 percent of their shots. Point guard Jordan Taylor, the team’s second leading scorer who put up 27 points in the teams’ last meeting and 39 last week against Indiana, was held to eight points.
Freshman point guard Aaron Craft was Taylor’s primary defender.
“It was unbelievable,” Diebler said. “With what Jordan did at Indiana, obviously he came in with a lot of confidence. When Aaron pressured him and made him shoot tough shots, it really helped us.”
The Badgers also struggled to contend with Sullinger down low. He put up 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds. He left the game with 3:12 remaining when the Buckeyes were leading 84-60.
“Wisconsin is a good basketball team but that first loss in college, I didn’t take that too lightly,” Sullinger said. “I wanted to win and I wanted to win big, too.”
Junior guard William Buford added 18 points for OSU, shooting a perfect 3-for-3 from distance.
The team’s hot shooting made sure the game was never close in the second half. The OSU lead never dropped below double digits after intermission and was extended to 27 on free throws from Buford with 2:50 remaining.
The large lead allowed Matta to pull his senior starters with 1:50 remaining. The three left to a standing ovation as Lighty kissed halfcourt as he departed.
The fourth and final senior, walk-on Eddie Days, entered the game with 1:16 remaining.
The game was followed by the presentation of the Big Ten championship trophy.
“It gives us momentum coming off a season-ending win like this,” Lauderdale said. “But like coach said in the locker room, we have to come back to practice with the same mentality that we’ve had the last 100 practices.”
As the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, OSU gets a first-round bye and will play the winner of Thursday’s Northwestern-Minnesota matchup. The Buckeyes will tip off at noon on Friday at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.