Buckeyes 58, Badgers 52: Too Much Jared Sullinger

Jared Sullinger is the obvious Big Ten player of the year. He’s definitely a top-three player of the year nationally.

His skills were on clear display Saturday in Madison. The big man scored 24 points on 8-of-16 shooting (8-of-10 free throws) to lead the Buckeyes to a 58-52 victory at the Kohl Center — Ohio State’s first since 2000 — and create some space in the Big Ten standings. At 8-2, the Buckeyes now hold a full-game lead over second-place Michigan and a 1.5 game lead over both Michigan State and Wisconsin.

And it really was almost entirely Sullinger on the offensive end for Ohio State. Deshaun Thomas made the only other significant impact in the first 57 minutes, scoring a solid 16 points on 15 shots. William Buford was shut down until making a dagger three-pointer with 2:28 to go, as he finished with just 11 points on 4-of-15 shooting. The rest of the Buckeyes scored just seven points on five shot attempts. Thad Matta’s teams have never relied on depth, and this year’s squad is no different.

Feb 4, 2012; Madison, WI, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes forward Jared Sullinger (0) drives to the basket during the second half against the Wisconsin Badgers at the Kohl Center. Ohio State defeated Wisconsin 58-52. Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

For Wisconsin, there were small contributions all across the board. Jordan Taylor put up 12 points and six assists. Mike Bruesewitz recorded an 11-point, 10-rebound double-double. Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren with double figures (14, 10 respectively). But the Badgers needed more than just four players, and nobody else showed up. Ben Brust was held scoreless on four shots and Josh Gasser managed just two points on four shots among the heavy-minute players for Wisconsin.

Wisconsin’s depth just couldn’t outdo Ohio State’s stars.

As disappointing as the loss has to be for the Badgers, it’s tough to take too many negatives out of the game except for the standings in the Big Ten race. Ohio State has played exceptionally well when Jared Sullinger has been able to play and when Brandon Paul hasn’t hit 8-of-10 three-pointers. The Buckeyes had outscored opponents by an absurd 28.4 points per 100 possessions in Big Ten play entering the game. They brought a four-game winning streak to the Kohl Center in which they won games by 17, 34, 24, and 15 points.

The Badgers’ 91.9 points per 100 possessions was only the eighth time the Buckeyes allowed an opponent over 90 per 100 possessions and just the fourth in Big Ten play. Ohio State’s 102.5 points per 100 possessions was its fifth-worst of the season and second-worst in Big Ten play. In short, the Badgers played very well, much better than most of the teams that played against Ohio State with a healthy Sullinger.

The problem is, against those elite teams, those championship contenders, “really well” isn’t well enough. The Badgers needed to hit a few more shots, make a few more plays. Against the typical teams, that margin for error is there. It doesn’t exist against Ohio State, and that’s why Ohio State has earned it’s sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.