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Men’s Basketball: No. 16 Ohio State, No. 13 Wisconsin meet in ranked rematch

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The Buckeyes celebrate their win after the Ohio State-Northwestern game on Sunday. Ohio State won 95-87. Credit: Gabe Haferman | Assistant Photo Editor

On Dec. 11, 2021, then-No. 21 Ohio State blew out then-No. 22 Wisconsin at the Schottenstein Center 73-55 thanks to 28 points from junior forward E.J. Liddell. Now, the No. 16 Buckeyes head into hostile territory against a Badgers team motivated by revenge.

Ohio State (10-3, 4-1 Big Ten) endured a 22-day covid-related halt in its program and a loss since its December triumph over the Badgers (13-2, 4-1 Big Ten). Wisconsin has won all five of its games since its letdown in Columbus, including a win over then-No. 3 Purdue at Mackey Arena Jan. 4.

With attention to Wisconsin’s hot streak off of the Dec. 11 loss, graduate forward Kyle Young said the Badgers will be a tougher challenge the second time around.

“They’re playing really well right now,” Young said. “They’re a really good team. We know they’re going to be ready to play, so we’re going to do our best to be ready as well.”

A key reason for Wisconsin’s winning stretch is Naismith Player of the Year candidate and sophomore guard Johnny Davis. The La Crosse, Wisconsin, native ranks second in the Big Ten in scoring — producing 22.3 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting from the field and 35.7 percent from 3-point range.

Davis scored 24 points and collected seven rebounds against the Buckeyes Dec. 11.

Despite missing two games since the Badgers’ loss to the Buckeyes, Davis has become a flamethrower during Wisconsin’s winning streak — averaging 27.3 points and 10 rebounds in his last three games. His efforts during the winning streak earned him the Wooden Award National Player of the Week for the week of Jan. 3.

“He’s so good at getting to his spots and he’s got such burst and athleticism,” head coach Chris Holtmann said. “He can make shots at all three levels. You just have to make it difficult for him.”

While Davis has produced absurd numbers during the Badgers’ last three games, Ohio State also has an emerging force in freshman guard Malaki Branham, who has also shown out in the Buckeyes’ three games since their return from a program pause.

Branham has averaged 24 points — including a 35-point performance against Nebraska — while shooting 57.5 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range over the last three games. As a result of his blistering stretch, Branham garnered back-to-back Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors.

While Branham’s primary defensive cover will likely be Davis, Holtmann said Wisconsin’s star will be a tough assignment for the St. Vincent-St. Mary High School product.

“It’s going to be a big challenge for Malaki,” Holtmann said. “It’s a lot to ask of a freshman because he’s going to be guarding an All-American, and then, hopefully, he can continue to play at such a really, really high level.”

Outside of Davis, senior guard Brad Davison is the only other Badger to average double-digit points. In his fifth season with Wisconsin, Davison put up 15.1 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.

Although the Badgers rank near the bottom of the Big Ten in 3-point percentage, Davison drills 35.1 percent of shots from beyond the arc.

As Davison is a solid No. 2 option alongside Davis, Holtmann emphasized the duo’s importance for the Badgers’ success.

“They have other guys, but it does really begin and end with Davis and Davison,” Holtmann said.

Ohio State was without Holtmann and assistant coach Ryan Pedon against Northwestern Sunday. Assistant coach Jake Diebler stepped in and led the Buckeyes to a 95-87 win over the Wildcats.

Holtmann and Pedon will both be back with the Buckeyes Thursday, meeting the team in Madison, Wisconsin, prior to the team’s shootaround in the morning.

The Buckeyes’ trip to Madison will kick off a stretch in which they play three games in five days. With an added focus on conditioning following the 22-day stoppage, Holtmann said his team is still a work in progress heading into the game.

“I think it is a challenge for us as a team collectively and individually,” Holtmann said. “We’re not there yet, but I think we’re a little closer.”

Ohio State and Wisconsin tip off at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Kohl Center. The game will be televised on ESPN2.

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