Big Ten road wins require toughness, which is probably why Ohio State men’s basketball’s most recent victory at Michigan resembled a rugby match in terms of its contact.
After a 61-58 victory in Ann Arbor that saw both sides combine to shoot 38 percent from the field with only 28 fouls called, the Buckeyes (15-7, 5-6 Big Ten) take their three-game win streak into Madison to face Wisconsin (13-10, 6-6) Sunday.
Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said the Badgers play a similar low-scoring, physical style.
“Their games are typically in the 50s, low 50s. The one here was in the 50s,” Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said. “I think that’s typically how they force you to play.”
Since losing five out of six games during a mid-year slog, the Buckeyes have clawed their way back into a tie for No. 10 in the Big Ten standings with a three-game winning streak. Their opponents in all three games scored less than 60 points.
Ohio State has accumulated its victories against Indiana and Michigan without the services of freshman guard D.J. Carton, the team’s No. 3 scorer and No. 2 passer in terms of assists.
Carton has stepped away from the team to deal with mental health issues, and will remain away against Wisconsin.
In his place, redshirt junior guard CJ Walker and sophomore guard Duane Washington took turns accounting for his production, with 14 points and 17 points against Indiana and Michigan, respectively.
“For me, shooting the ball a lot is, I guess, one of my roles,” Washington said. “Shoot the open ones. Be aggressive. All season long [my teammates] have been giving me confidence to do so.”
Wisconsin defeated the Buckeyes 61-57 on Ohio State’s home floor the first time the two sides met this season, the second loss in the Buckeyes’ five-of-six skid.
Wisconsin junior forward Nate Reuvers, the team’s leading scorer and No. 2 rebounder, put together 17 points in the win.
The Badgers received a shocking bit of bad news Jan. 29, however, when sophomore guard Kobe King announced his transfer from the program.
“After spending almost three years in the Wisconsin program I have realized that this program is not the right fit for me as a player and person,” King said in an Instagram post.
King was the Badgers’ No. 2 scorer.
More turmoil came when Wisconsin strength coach Erik Helland admitted to using a racial epithet in front of several Wisconsin players Jan. 3. He resigned from his position Thursday.
Holtmann isn’t letting it affect Ohio State’s preparation, however. The Badgers managed to defeat then-No. 14 Michigan State this past Saturday without King.
“We saw what they did last weekend at home versus Michigan State,” Holtmann said. “Good team, disciplined, older, talented, well coached. We’ll need to play well.”
Guard play hurt Ohio State in its previous defeat against the Badgers. The quartet of Carton, Washington, Walker and sophomore Luther Muhammad combined to shoot 31 percent with just two assists against eight turnovers. Washington, the team’s No. 2 scorer, went 6-for-19 from the field.
Washington said Holtmann is constantly critiquing and motivating him.
“Every once in awhile you look over and you feel like he’s staring through your whole soul,” Washington said.
Washington added that he’d be concerned if Holtmann wasn’t constantly coaching him up, because that would mean it was an issue beyond fixing.
“Duane’s a great kid. Love coaching Duane Washington,” Holtmann said. “I really do — he needs to be coached. We recruited him, everybody said, ‘Coach, you gotta stay on him. Gotta stay on him.’ That’s including his dad. It’s who he is, but he’s got the potential.”
The Buckeyes will look for redemption against the Badgers and a continuation of their newfound winning ways when they tip off in the Kohl Center at 1 p.m. Sunday.