"Great defense by Wisconsin," he said.
Ohio State's 63.7 points a contest is not much of an offensive threat in the Big Ten but Wisconsin made sure they did not come close to that average. The Buckeyes were held to their second lowest tally of the season in a 78-48 Badger win.
Though Wisconsin's overall defensive performance was among its best of the season, it did not start out so smooth in the first half. The Buckeyes came out utilizing the lob pass in hopes of finding open looks for senior center Velimir Radinovic and sophomore forward Terence Dials. Junior forward Mike Wilkinson and sophomore forward Andreas Helmigk played big on the inside but Radinovic and Dials scored four a piece in the paint heading into half time. At that point, Ohio State had 16 points in the paint compared to Wisconsin's six.
"I thought we were aggressive offensively," O'Brien said. "We were trying to get the ball inside, we were trying to go to the basket. We didn't change anything that we hoped to do offensively."
Though the Buckeyes made no adjustments, the second half saw different results for their offense. They continued to take attempt the lob pass but were pressured more on the inside thanks to Wilkinson, who was forced to cover both Radinovic and Dials at different times. His presence created a significant roadblock for Ohio State's offense, which faltered as the game unwound. Wilkinson finished with a game-high three steals and he helped force Radinovic into five turnovers. Dials was held to two points in the second half and Radinovic was scoreless and did not even find a shot attempt.
"If they wanted to keep doing the lob we were just going to try and keep playing our defense," Wilkinson said. "If we could get a hand on it, we got a hand on it…they got a couple times early which I think gave them a little bit of confidence but we got the job done in the second half."
Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan also knew that the Buckeyes could not depend on their high-low offense for the entire game.
"There's a very fine line between a completion of a high-low," Ryan said. "If it was so easy people would do it 25-30 times a game. You've got pressure on the passer; you've got pressure on the catcher. As a game wears on your legs get worn down a little bit, sometimes your decision making is not the same … if they want to throw it they can throw it. Completing it and getting something out of it; that's something different."
Ohio State connected on just 6 of 24 field goals in the second half. Buckeye guard Tony Stockman led the team in scoring during the past three games with 17-, 22- and 18-point performances and only needed four more points to reach the 1,000-point milestone in his career. He failed to produce offensively on this night, though, going 1-for-11 for just three points.
"They committed to some things with the post (defense)," Ryan said regarding his team's performance in the second half. "They committed to not allowing a whole lot of second shots and they committed to not allowing dribble penetration. If you do that you've got a chance."
The Buckeyes tried to reciprocate Wisconsin's defense but had trouble containing not only junior guard Devin Harris (33 points) but Wilkinson's all-around game. Early in the first half, Dials picked up two quick fouls while trying to defend Wilkinson. The first came while he was trying to collapse in the lane; the second came on an over the back call. Dials ended up committing two more fouls. Wilkinson did everything from working the middle to hitting his outside shot. He ended up with 14 points on 2 of 5 from the floor and 9 of 10 from the charity stripe.
Radinovic was also getting frustrated on the defensive end. The 7 footer fouled out of the game with three minutes and 41 seconds remaining after he tried to stop Harris on a fast break. Radinovic marched to the bench but before sitting down showed his frustrating with an obscene gesture directed towards the Wisconsin student section.
All in all, the Badgers' defensive performance was something that has been in the works all season. Ryan knows what the team is capable of on the defensive end and will look to carry on the performance when they hit the hostile road next week.
"Our players defensively did what we talked about doing for the past two days and that's a nice sign," Ryan said. "That kind of response is good. They moved their feet, they chased on the shooters… they stuck with the rules pretty well."
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