For the third time this season, Ohio State has gone on the road against a Top 15 opponent and come away with a win. The first two times were wins at No. 15 Rutgers and No. 14 Illinois, but this time it was the No. 15 Buckeyes (12-4, 6-4) leading wire-to-wire in a 74-62 win at No. 10 Wisconsin (12-4, 6-3).
Ohio State was once again led by sophomore forward EJ Liddell who scored a game-high 20 points. Graduate transfer forward Seth Towns added in 10 points off the bench in just 17 minutes of play. Senior point guard CJ Walker also made his return to the Buckeyes after missing the last four games with an injured right hand.
EJ Liddell was an effective scorer all over the place for the Buckeyes, hitting jumpers everywhere and staying free of a defensive lockdown from the Badgers. He connected on 7-of-12 field goal attempts and also added seven rebounds. His confidence is extremely high right now and so is his follow-through on his jumpers.
Try as they might, the Badgers just couldn’t find a consistent stroke on the day — especially from deep. They had a hot streak late that got them back in the game, but they were never consistent enough to ever actually take a lead. Wisconsin finished 7-of-28 from three-point territory, with six of those makes belonging to D’Mitrik Trice and Aleem Ford. The rest of the team hit just one three-pointer out of 15 attempts. A pair of threes from Ford cut OSU’s lead to four points with just under five minutes to play, but the Buckeyes hit all 11 of their free throws down the stretch to close this one out with relative ease.
Point guard CJ Walker had missed the previous four games, leaving the Buckeyes to scramble for a point guard in his absence. They have done well enough, but everybody was thrilled to have Walker back on the court in this one. Walker did not get the start but did play 24 minutes, scoring eight points. He provided some tremendous defense in the game’s final minutes and gave the Buckeyes another gear on offense. After the game, head coach Chris Holtmann praised Walker, but also said the usage of Justice Sueing at point guard will continue.
This game was an open-book test for the Buckeyes because they had every answer. Every Wisconsin run was met with the correct response and the Badgers had no further questions. Ohio State was calm on offense and got the ball wherever they wanted to, which was something they lamented about the loss to Purdue earlier in the week. This was a game that was played with a Boilermaker loss in their mind, and when the Badgers started to make things a bit tight in the game and everyone outside of the Kohl Center may have started to see this as another OSU collapse, the Buckeyes never went that way. They stayed focused and stayed aggressive, stopping Wisconsin runs by getting into the paint and getting good looks. It was an impressive response following a rough loss just a few days ago.
The Box Score
— Overall, “I’m just really proud of this group.” This Wisconsin team is a top 10 team. Really talented and old. Well coached. Discipline. “But as we always say, players win games.” From the jump the Buckeyes had control. Very proud of this win. “It was a tremendous character win for our group after a tough on the other night.”
— It’s very different playing on the road now. Every environment is now a neutral environment. It’s a bit awkward at home for everybody. It’s now all about execution and how you’re playing. This is a great win regardless of environment though.
— When you trail like the Badgers did, threes can be harder to make because the pressure mounts.
— The Buckeyes did a great job of answering. Kyle Young’s “and-1” around the 5-minute mark was huge. He almost called a timeout on that possession. You’ve got to trust your guys and they answer the bell every time. Games never feel like they’re in hand and this one was no different. “Never once.” It always feels like a one-possession game because if you don’t play that way, you can get undisciplined.
— “This team has been extremely engaged from the start of the year.” They have bounced back from tough losses very well. They are competitive and they feel the losses. They come back ready to work and they prepare well.
— CJ Walker doesn’t get enough credit. He’s a great talker defensively. He competes, sometimes too hard defensively and gets in foul trouble. He got into the paint in this game and made very good decisions. When he’s playing well, that’s what he does. There was a concern about disrupting the offensive rhythm by bringing him back and figuring out how to do that and keep things moving well. They’re doing it by feel and also by how well Walker is feeling and playing. Justice Sueing continues to play well also so they won’t go away from that.
— EJ Liddell is a tremendous person, so when he has a rough game, he bounces back well because he is interested in getting better. Plus he’s really talented. He’s a mismatch issue. “He’s a problem.” Purdue did a great job of taking away some things, but Wisconsin wasn’t.
— CJ Walker did a nice job with his help awareness and defense down the stretch. His speed also gave them a different element than what they’ve had without him.
— Duane Washington was 1-9 from the field but you continue to see his evolution into a really good player. He commands a lot of attention so you have to play the game the right way. He led the team with four assists. He has taken a major step forward as a junior.
— That was as good as they have played offensively in his time at Ohio State against an elite opponent. Ryan Pedon did a great job with the offensive game plan. This was an efficient offense against a very good defense.
— You want your players to celebrate the wins this year more than ever. You want them to really enjoy the wins during a pandemic, especially Top 10 wins. “Because you know tomorrow morning we’re gonna get up and get tested at 8 in the morning.” It’s rewarding as a coach to see your players happy right now because they have invested so much in this season.
— They need to make improvements defensively but they have become an elite offensive team in terms of efficiency. Defensive effort needs to improve and so does the attention to detail. The progress has been rewarding as a coaching staff.
— Why were they so effective today? They were very disciplined and executed. “And I think the jerseys had something to do with it. We all felt it when we put them on. We all felt the super powers.”
— The Purdue game, they hated to lose it but it taught them a ton. It gave them new knowledge for this game.
— When Wisconsin made their runs, they expected it but they talked at breaks about the fact that the Buckeyes are pretty good themselves so they can handle it.
— “Objectively, it just shows that we’re a really good team.” They have an opportunity to win every game they play, but they keep an eye on the task at hand. One game at a time.
— It was huge getting CJ Walker back. He’s impactful at the point guard position. “Everyone across the board is really glad to have him back.”
— He tries to stay ready and be warm for when he gets in and can just pick up right away with his offense, including his jumpers. “And again, the jersey really gave me a boost.”
— “I feel pretty good right now.” It’s a roller coaster with his recovery but he feels good right now and has been feeling good, so he’s trying to keep that momentum.
— It’s a testament to the guys on the team that the game is never to big for them. No moment is too big for the leaders on this team. “We’re locked in on us every single time out.”
— Justin Ahrens’ confidence is through the roof. He’s one of the best shooters in the country. “He’s got a lot more in him.”
— It’s an unbelievable feeling playing with “Ohio State” on the front of his jersey. However many minutes that is per night, he’s going to play hard regardless. Whatever his role is. “When my name is called, I’m proud to be a Buckeye and playing for this team.”
— They wanted to start out the game being aggressive. They set the tone and stuck with it. “It took everybody to stay together and be connected.” Wisconsin made their run but the Buckeyes had to stay connected and they did.
— The jerseys gave them a different type of swagger and confidence. “I couldn’t wait to put them on” when he saw them. They saw them last week and the days moved so slow to get to this game and finally wear them.
— “Man, I’m so happy to have CJ back.” It’s great to have him back out there leading.
— He knows what he’s capable of doing offensively and right now he feels like the coaches trust him to score.
— “Any win on the road is huge.” When they go on the road they have a different mindset and that has helped them get big wins on the road.
— On the day off that Chris Holtmann gave them after the Purdue game: “That was the best day of my life.” Everybody needed a refresh.
— He has worked on his outside game very hard because he knew it would make the team better if he was more of a threat outside. So he works on it every day.
[Header photo courtesy of the Ohio State Dept. of Athletics.]