In Saturday's clear-cut marquee match-up, the No. 14 Wisconsin men's basketball team stunned top-ranked and previously unbeaten Ohio State (21-1 Big Ten, 24-1 overall) by finishing the game on a 39-20 run to pick up a 71-67 victory.
With the victory, Wisconsin becomes just the eighth school to take down a top-ranked team in both football and basketball during the same school year, and just the second to do so against the same school (Florida pulled the trick against Ohio State in 2006-‘07).
Sophomore forward Mike Bruesewitz might have made the play of the game with a clutch three in the final minute, but junior guard Jordan Taylor left little doubt about player of the game honors. After struggling to just six first-half points, Taylor shined in the second half, leading the Badger comeback with 21 second half points including 10 over a three minute stretch that ultimately saw UW erase a 15 point deficit with a 15-0 run.
"We just had to toughen up," Taylor said. "They made a run and we knew we had a run in us."
If there were any doubters about Taylor's rightful place as one of the nation's best, this 27-point, seven assist, four-rebound performance should silence them now.
"What he did there," UW head coach Bo Ryan said. "I don't think there's too many players in the country, not just this year but all time, who've done that, especially against the number one team."
What shined through in Saturday's win was the resiliency that, by all accounts, defines this year's Wisconsin squad. The Badgers not only overcame a double-digit deficit against the top team in the nation, but did so just three days after battling their way to an overtime victory in Iowa City against the struggling Hawkeyes.
"To do what they did and have those kind of legs and arms, to have Ohio State get the lead they got and then get the lead ourselves," Ryan added. "I don't know what else you can say about these guys about how tough they are."
As many expected, the crowd played a huge role in bringing down the Buckeyes. While a Buckeye run early in the second half seemed to knock the crowd out of it, Taylor responded with back-to-back threes to cut the lead to seven with 11:22 left. More importantly, however, he brought the raucous crowd back onto their feet.
"He came down and gave us back-to-back threes and got us right back into it," senior forward Jon Leuer said. "From there, we had the momentum, you could just feel the energy in the building."
Averaging over 18 points a game coming into Saturday, Leuer struggled against a physical Ohio State front line that held the Naismith Award candidate to just 12 points and six rebounds on 5 of 14 shooting.
Even with Taylor's career day, Leuer's struggles made the contributions from Bruesewitz and freshman guard Josh Gasser all the more crucial in the Badgers' 17th straight home victory.
"We talked about having [Bruesewitz] be the guy who beats us," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said after the game. "And today, he did."
In addition to Bruesewitz's 12 crucial points off the bench (capped off by the aforementioned three-pointed), Gasser once again stepped up when needed most, going for 11 points and seven rebounds. Not counted in those stats, though, was a pivotal tip late in the ballgame that allowed Leuer to secure an offensive rebound and maintain possession.
"He makes those kinds of plays all the time that you might not see in the box score," Leuer said. "But he's the kind of kid who's hard-nosed and sticks his face into the ball."
Despite the late drama, the energy of the crowd suggested very few of the 17,000 plus that packed the Kohl Center would have imagined the comeback possible when the Buckeye lead stood at 47-32. But somehow, someway, the Badgers found a way to win with their backs against the wall, completing just the sixth comeback of 15 points or more in program history.
While the Badgers are certainly going to celebrate the win, they already have an eye on a road test against Purdue coming up Wednesday night.
"This was a huge win for us to keep moving forward but we're not done yet," Leuer added. "We feel like we still have a lot of work left to do and we're just trying to get better every day so we can be playing our best basketball down the stretch."
It looks like Bucky is getting hot at the right time. Can you say Final Four????