In each of his last two games, Thad Matta climbed the coaching tenure list at Ohio State. On Thursday night against No. 16 Wisconsin, he moved into sole possession atop the career list by passing Harold G. Olsen with 457 career games, two ahead of Fred Taylor.
And given what the Buckeyes have been through lately, an emphatic 83-73 win over the Badgers at Value City Arena gave Matta a chance to collect himself and address the growing chorus of dissatisfied fans around the program.
“(Director of basketball operations) Dave Egelhoff is wondering if I’m going to show up again,” Matta said. “I’m sure there are a lot of people who wouldn’t be (ticked) off if I didn’t come back.”
On this night, a little gallows humor was warranted. Facing the No. 4 scoring defense in the nation and a team that had beaten the Buckeyes by 23 points in Madison on Jan. 12, Ohio State (16-13, 6-10 Big Ten) blitzed the Badgers (22-6, 11-4) early and never let up in stretching its lead as high as 20 points.
The win is Ohio State’s first against a ranked opponent since a 68-64 home win against No. 8 Iowa on Feb. 28, 2016.
Since then, the Buckeyes had lost eight straight against ranked opponents and entered the game with a three-game losing streak punctuated by a last-minute meltdown Saturday against Nebraska.
This was a different story played out by what looked like a different team.
Nigel Hayes’ three-point play with 12:19 left in the first half pulled the Badgers to 13-12, but freshman Andre Wesson answered by calmly swishing a three-pointer from the right wing to push the Buckeyes’ lead back to four points.
Micah Potter and C.J. Jackson followed suit with threes for a 9-0 run that gave Ohio State a 22-12 lead, and Wisconsin would never seriously threaten again.
“It feels good to win, especially against a team like that,” said junior Jae’Sean Tate, who had a double-double by halftime and finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds. “I feel like everybody was on the same page tonight. We played hard.”
When the Badgers pulled within 13 points near the midway point of the second half, Ohio State traded baskets for its next five possessions while building its lead to 17 points. The 83 points were the most allowed in conference play by Wisconsin, which was giving up 60.5 points per game against Big Ten opponents this season.
After being pounded in the post at Wisconsin earlier this season, the Buckeyes trapped the Badgers in the post and frustrated them. Ohio State had an 18-2 inside scoring edge by halftime and led 44-31 at the break after scoring only 57 points in the loss to Nebraska five days prior.
Jackson led the way, making all four of his three-point attempts for a career-high 18 points. JaQuan Lyle added 17 off the bench while making all 10 of his free-throw attempts as every Ohio State player scored at least three points.
“It wasn’t just me,” Jackson said. “From the head guy to the bottom guy we were all dialed in tonight.”