MADISON, WI — Behind 13 three-pointers and another Nigel Hayes second half close, Wisconsin made it five in a row on Thursday night, beating Ohio State 79-68.

After getting out to a blistering 11-0 start, fueled by seven efficient points from Vitto Brown, Ohio State quickly clawed back to make it 14-10. It was back-and-forth for the rest of the half, with Wisconsin taking a narrow 38-32 lead into the intermission.

For a minute, it seemed like smooth sailing in the second half, with the Badgers getting out to a 62-50 lead about 12 minutes into the half. But, Ohio State managed to cut the lead down to three after going on a 9-o run, which was aided by several boneheaded turnovers by Wisconsin. They were fueled by freshman guard JaQuan Lyle, who went off for 27 points on 11-19 shooting (3-6 3FG) and 4 assists.

But the Badgers never wavered in the threat of the comeback, and in the end this will go down as a nice team win. Jordan Hill and Vitto Brown hit two huge shots with the shot clock winding down to hold onto the lead down the stretch, and a few clutch free throws from Nigel and Bronson helped make the victory official: Wisconsin 79, Ohio State 68. And just like that, things seem to be looking up for this young Badger squad, who are now riding high on an impressive five-game winning streak.

Nigel Hayes struggled in the first half, only managing 3 points on 1-7 shooting. It’s not how you start, however, but how you finish, and Nigel epitomized this concept by leading the way in the second half. He ended up with 21 points on 6-15 shooting (2-7 3FG), 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals, going 4-4 from the line when it mattered most.

When asked after the game, Wisconsin interim coach Greg Gard explained that he told Nigel at halftime, “You’re 1-7 and haven’t taken a shot within 17 feet.” Hayes responded with 18 points in the second half, leading the Badgers to victory.

It’s hard to account for how clutch he is with surface level stats; he also had several important rebounds and an impressive steal in the waning minutes of the contest. He is growing into his role more and more as a leader every game, and his teammates are responding well.

The Badgers got contributions across the board, with Ethan Happ, Bronson, Vitto Brown, Zak Showalter, Jordan Hill and Alex Illikainen all scoring at least 6 points. Hill and Brown were particularly efficient role players, scoring, rebounding (both had 3 offensive boards), defending and hitting the aforementioned clutch shots to help ice the game.

The story of the game was three-point shooting for Wisconsin. They shot 48% from three on 13-27 shooting, which is a season high and actually ties the season high set by last year’s Final Four team against Michigan State. Every player that scored for the Badgers hit at least one three pointer, with Hill, Showalter and Illikainen all having particularly efficient nights from beyond the arc.

Wisconsin was atrocious from the free throw line all night, finishing with a putrid 59% on 10-17 shooting. Other than that, though, they played well as a team. They won the rebounding battle, the assist battle, the steals battle, and shot better from the field. There were, however, some similar struggles that have been trending all season long. The Buckeyes outscored them in the paint, were more opportunistic after forcing turnovers, and managed to pull down 10 offensive rebounds.

Team wins with contributions on both ends are exactly what this team needs, and this was yet another step in the right direction for the Badgers. They still need to work on ball control, keeping bigger teams off the offensive glass, and, most importantly, holding onto leads.

But as Gard put it, “They’re growing in the right direction.”

We’ll see if they can continue to grow; their next test will be at home against Nebraska next Wednesday, February 10th at 6:00 PM.

After the game Nigel, born and raised in Ohio, was asked if he had any bitter feelings toward Ohio State for not recruiting him.

“Nah, I’m cool,” Hayes explained. “They got the guys the wanted. I’ll take my two Final Fours, my wins, and I’ll carry on my merry way.”

Then, he dropped the mic.

Game Notes

  • Ohio State came in shooting 65% from the free throw line on the year, but ended with 75% (9-12) tonight.
  • The Badgers went on a nice mini run before the half, with a unique lineup of Showalter, Hill, Iverson, Happ and Illikainen. We’ve seen Gard is clearly not afraid to experiment with new lineups.
  • Wisconsin’s season-long three-point field goal percentage jumped from 33.3% to 34.4% after tonight’s explosive shooting barrage.
  • Wisconsin debuted their Black History month jerseys tonight.

Photo from Andy Manis / AP.