It had been a while since the Ohio State men’s basketball team played a game like it did on Thursday night.
The Buckeyes (16-13, 6-10 Big Ten) shocked the No. 16 Wisconsin Badgers with a 83-73 upset victory at the Schottenstein Center. But it wasn’t just how they played. It was the fact that they simply played and didn’t overthink the game.
From the start, OSU played arguably its most complete game all season. Ball movement was crisp, the defense was quick and physical, all of which culminated in a victory few saw coming.
Junior forward Jae’Sean Tate had a double-double in the first half, and finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Sophomore guard C.J. Jackson had a career high 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting and 4 for 4 from 3, also a career high. Sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle had 17 points off the bench for the Buckeyes.
Wisconsin senior guard Bronson Koenig led the Badgers (22-6, 11-4 Big Ten) with 27 points.
“The motto for this game was just go out and play,” Jackson said. “We knew it was going to be tough. We knew they were going to hit shots and we knew they were a good team, but we figured if we just played hard, everything would take care of itself.”
That it did.
OSU shot 63 percent and made 10 shots from 3-point range. The Buckeyes had 32 bench points — 17 from Lyle nine from freshman center Micah Potter, six from freshman forward Andre Wesson — and outrebounded Wisconsin 38-23.
The Buckeyes had their typical ugly possessions early in the first half, but the offensive execution that was absent in the final minutes of their loss to Nebraska last week was suddenly present and abundant.
Jackson connected on four of his six shots in the first half, including a 3. In the second half after Wisconsin cut the OSU lead to nine, Lyle and Jackson hit back-to-back 3s to halt the Badger run.
Possession after possession, the Buckeyes had an answer for the Badgers and Wisconsin couldn’t buy a stop. Jackson hit his fourth 3-pointer of the night with 5:35 to go, bringing the lead to 17 points.
OSU led 44-31 at halftime and led by as much as 20 points in the second half.
“From the head guy to the bottom guy, we just were all dialed in tonight,” Jackson said.
Coach Thad Matta and Tate attributed much of the rebirth of attentiveness on both sides of the ball to the institution of hard double-teams whenever Wisconsin’s redshirt sophomore center Happ or senior forward Nigel Hayes had the ball in the post. Whether it be the center, forward or guard coming over to help trap on the baseline, each player was rotating on every pass and on box-outs.
In turn, OSU’s offense displayed pace that led to an efficient night.
Happ finished with four points in six rebounds. Hayes had seven points and four boards.
“The post trap definitely put us in that position,” Matta said. “We were telling our guys the three most important guys were the guys outside of the trap. We were going to be in scramble mode. I think that definitely put a little pep in the step, if you will. It was good to see us flying around, loose balls, tipping them and that sort of thing.”
Matta called Thursday night’s game the most consistent effort he has gotten from his players all season. OSU had four players in double figures and made 23 of 27 shots from the free-throw line. The 83 points was the most OSU had scored since Nov. 25 against Marshall when the Buckeyes scored 111.
From the tragic loss last Saturday to Nebraska, it seemed improbable for the Buckeyes to steal a game against Wisconsin. But they didn’t steal it. They flat out dismantled an allegedly superior opponent.
It had been a while since that had happened.
“We just got to build off of this,” Tate said. “If we play like this the rest of the time and in the Big Ten tournament, I feel like we can win.”
OSU plays Tuesday at Penn State at 8:30 p.m.