MADISON — With a bounce and a swat, the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team jumped into the thick of the Big Ten championship hunt Wednesday night.
First, the bounce. The Badgers clung to a 69-68 lead when Brian Butch let loose a 3-point shot from the right wing. It looked true upon release, but it dipped up out of the cylinder and sailed into the air. Somehow — it seemed to hang in the air for a moment, deciding whether to carom off the rim — the ball spun back through the net, giving UW its then-largest lead of the game.
Next, the swat — a swat that may go down in Badger lore. Ohio State big man Terence Dials, who had wreaked havoc on UW for the first 28 minutes of the game, had not scored a point since a layup with 12:35 left to play gave him 24 for the night. With his team in desperate need of a bucket following Butch’s 3, Dials got loose in the paint, received a pass and attacked the basket.
One problem. Alando Tucker, who gives up roughly four inches to Dials, made a rare attempt at a blocked shot. The 6-foot-5 forward, who had blocked just 17 shots in his career, leapt up and swatted away Dials’ attempt, sending the loudest Kohl-Center crowd of the season into a ear-splitting fury.
“The energy in that place,” UW coach Bo Ryan said. “Every time you think you’ve heard it at its loudest — wow. That was electrifying, in those last six minutes. And that block was all part of that.”
“(Dials) looked like he was going to dunk it,” Tucker said. “So I figured I could step in and try to just alter his shot… He took it up softer than he was the past couple plays, so I just figured I’d challenge it. It looked good, so I went after it.”
Tucker then drew a foul on the other end of the court and made 1 of 2 free throws, putting the Badgers up 73-68 on their way to a 78-73 victory.
The upset win over the 12th-ranked Buckeyes planted Wisconsin in second place in the Big Ten with an 8-4 league mark (18-7 overall), one game behind first-place Iowa (9-3, 20-6 overall), with four games remaining for each team, culminating in a head-to-head showdown in Iowa City March 4. OSU (7-4, 18-4) fell into a third-place tie with Illinois (7-4, 21-4).
UW was victorious for the third straight game, after losing 5 of 6 previously. The Badgers do not play again until a road date at Northwestern (4-7, 12-11) Feb. 23.
Wednesday, Wisconsin trailed 37-28 at halftime and OSU appeared to be in command. But the Badgers clicked on all cylinders offensively and defensively in the second half. UW shot 56 percent after halftime, including a 4 of 7 showing from the 3-point line, and even made 16 of 22 second-half free throws (73 percent).
The key was Tucker, who led all players with 27 points and 16 rebounds.
“He sold programs and popcorn too,” Ryan said. “It had to be fun to watch, if you could just sit back and just watch the game, because his energy was everywhere.”
Tucker pulled down an incredible seven offensive rebounds, helping the Badgers out-rebound OSU 38-27. UW snagged 15 offensive caroms, compared to seven for the Buckeyes, which led to a 20-2 advantage in second-chance points.
“For us to be able to keep them off the glass and to out-rebound them, especially on the offensive boards, that’s the difference in the game,” Ryan said.
Tucker and junior guard Kammron Taylor combined to score UW’s first 15 points of the second half, capped by Tucker’s 3-point play with 13:38 left in the game, which drew the Badgers within 47-43.
OSU led by as many as 13 in the first half but the Badgers steadily whittled away at that advantage after halftime.
Butch hit a key 3 to cut OSU’s lead in half at 49-46 and Tucker continued to dominate in the post throughout the half.
Just as Tucker came up with a huge defensive play, though, so did Butch. Midway through the second half, UW’s defensive rotations versus the Buckeyes’ perimeter screens landed Tucker on Dials—not the matchup the Badgers liked to see. Dials alertly posted up from inside the right wing and backed Tucker down toward the low block. But as he went to make his move, Butch doubled down from the high post and poked the ball away from Dials.
Butch’s steal led to UW guard Michael Flowers’ fast-break layup, cutting OSU’s lead to one point, 53-52, with 9:44 remaining.
After Ron Lewis’ fast-break dunk gave the Buckeyes a 57-52 lead, Tucker and Taylor converted back-to-back layups. Tucker then drew a foul and made the first of two free-throw attempts to tie the game at 57-57 with 7:26 left. But he missed the second, and walk-on freshman forward Kevin Gullikson missed the front end of a one-and-one 31 seconds later.
OSU went on a mini-spurt, but trailing 62-57 the Badgers countered with a 12-4 run in just more than three minutes—in the process taking their first lead since being up 11-10 with 13 minutes left in the first half.
Ray Nixon scored 10 of UW’s 12 points during that spurt, including seven straight Badger points to start the rally. A pair of Tucker free throws gave UW a 66-64 edge. And Nixon’s 3-pointer with 2:25 left gave the Badgers the lead for good at 69-66. That set the stage for Butch’s and Tucker’s heroics in final two minutes.
Tucker played all 40 minutes and finished 10 of 18 from the floor and 7 of 11 from the free-throw line.
“He made big plays,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “He drives, he finishes and tonight he steps up — 7-for-11 — he’s a 48-percent free-throw shooter [in Big Ten games]. When he’s making his free throws, wow.”
Tucker was one of four Badgers in double figures, joined by Butch (17 points), Nixon (13) and Taylor (12).
Dials made 10 of his first 12 field-goal attempts, but missed his last four shots, and received few quality looks down the stretch. He finished with 24 points, 11 rebounds and three turnovers.
OSU entered the game the most prolific 3-point shooting team in the Big Ten, with the second-highest percentage in the nation. But the Buckeyes made just 4 of 17 from beyond the arc Wednesday.
“They were due to miss some shots some game,” Ryan said. “I’m glad it was ours.”