MADISON, WI (AP) – Ohio State followed up two tough losses with their best game yet under coach Chris Holtmann.
An easy 83-58 win on the road over Wisconsin was just the way that the Buckeyes wanted to open Big Ten play.
Keita Bates-Diop had 17 points and 11 rebounds, while Kaleb Wesson scored 19 points for hot-shooting Ohio State which hit 66 percent from the field and led comfortably for most of the afternoon.
“This was kind of as well as we could play for stretches,” said Holtmann, in his first season with Ohio State. “We probably caught Wisconsin on a difficult day.”
Jae’Sean Tate added 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting for Ohio State (6-3, 1-0). Ohio State handed Wisconsin its worst lost at the Kohl Center, which opened in 1998. The worst previous loss was 61-44 to Michigan State on Feb. 12, 2000.
The Buckeyes were up 49-26 at halftime, then opened the second half with a 10-2 run that quieted the typically rowdy Kohl Center crowd.
“In a game like this, the start of the second half is important because we stretched the lead a little bit,” Holtmann said. “We didn’t give them a chance to get back into it … It was always relatively out of reach.”
Freshman Brad Davison had 16 points to lead young Wisconsin (3-5, 0-1), which has lost five of its last six games.
The Badgers have four new starters this season around big man Ethan Happ (seven points, six rebounds). Their problems could be epitomized during a stretch late in the first half in which the Buckeyes double-teamed Happ to force a turnover.
Musa Jallow sprinted down the other end for an easy layup and 20-point lead with 1:15 left.
Defensively, the Badgers gave up too many open looks from the 3-point arc and got overpowered in the lane when the game was still competitive. They were outrebounded 32-18 and outscored in the paint 36-12 on the day.
“The easiest thing to say is we didn’t come with enough energy,” Happ said dejectedly. “We just need to be more prepared to play.”
Ohio State hoped for a similar outcome against Wisconsin later Saturday in Indianapolis, where the schools’ football teams were facing off in the Big Ten title game.
“Where is everybody? There must be a big game,” Holtmann told reporters in a half-empty media room after the win.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes shot 18 of 23 (78 percent) in the first half, including an 8-of-9 run during a 5-plus minute stretch that opened up an 18-point lead. They won comfortably after blowing double-digit leads in back-to-back losses to Clemson and Butler.
Wisconsin: Things were going so poorly that Badgers fans offered mock applause when the Buckeyes finally missed their first 3 of the game at 3:38 of the first half after making their first seven attempts. Offensively, ball movement was a problem for a roster relying on four freshmen to either start or play key roles off the bench. Coach Greg Gard must make sure the disastrous opener doesn’t weigh on the minds of his young squad.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes went 1-2 in PK-80 tournament play in Portland, Oregon over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, then lost to Clemson at home Wednesday in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Holtmann gave his team off Thursday to refresh and get away from basketball.
“Coach was just like telling us all week, we’ve either got to get tired of losing or we’re just going to get lessons taught to us over and over again,” Tate said. “It’s still a long reason but this is stepping stone for us, just showing that we can draw the line.”
Wisconsin: The Badgers faced four ranked opponents over their five previous games, losing each contest. The other game was a 71-49 win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“Maybe that was a sign – we’ve had so many of these in a row, we didn’t have anything in tank today,” Gard said. “That’s inexcusable in terms of what we needed, specifically right out of the gate at the start of the game.”
Ohio State: Hosts Michigan on Monday.
Wisconsin: Travels to Penn State on Monday.