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Tyler Wahl turns in a complete performance as Wisconsin men's basketball gets even with Ohio State

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University of Wisconsin guard Brad Davison speaks to the media after the 13th-ranked Badgers defeated the 16th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes 78-68 in a Big Ten showdown Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, at the Kohl Center in Madison.

Tyler Wahl was sick when the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team last played Ohio State on Dec. 11 in Columbus, Ohio.

He probably shouldn’t have played against Indiana the previous game and then was still fighting symptoms against the Buckeyes four days later. He only contributed three points, one rebound, two assists and one steal as the Badgers fell to the Buckeyes in their first meeting this season.

“I wouldn't use (being sick) as an excuse,” Wahl said Thursday night after the teams squared off in Madison. “They still came out and played pretty physical the first time and that was one of our things coming in, we weren't going to let them come in the Kohl Center and get the best of us. We played really hard today. We were able to do what we needed to do to win the game.”

Wahl was fully healthy this time around and a key factor for the 13th-ranked Badgers (14-2, 5-1 Big Ten) with 20 points, seven rebounds, six assists and two steals in their 78-68 victory over the 16th-ranked Buckeyes in the rematch.

Seven minutes into the first half Thursday night, Wahl had four points, two assists, two rebounds and a steal. But that wasn’t enough; he wanted to try and accomplish something he hadn’t yet this season.

Chris Vogt passed him the ball, and with 13:31 left in the half, Wahl connected on his first 3-pointer of the season. He hit his second 3-pointer off a Johnny Davis pass less than two minutes into the second half.

“His confidence (has improved),” Davis said. “I see it in practice every day. It shouldn't have taken him this long to hit his first three but it was a damn good time for him to do it.”

Both of Wahl’s offensive rebounds resulted in second-chance points. He grabbed an offensive board with 18:01 left in the first half off a Chucky Hepburn miss, feeding Brad Davison for a stepback jumper seconds later. Later, Wahl grabbed an offensive rebound off a Davis missed 3-pointer and got the ball to Steven Crowl, who then found Wahl underneath for a reverse layup.

Five of Wahl’s six assists were on 3-point shots, including Crowl’s basket to open the game. His sixth assist came with 11:31 remaining, when he found Crowl for an easy dunk.

“I was really just getting the ball in the post and if they were sending some guys my way I was just finding the open guy,” Wahl said. “It’s just playing basketball.”

Wahl showed his on-court intelligence on an inbound play in the first half. Buckeyes junior forward E.J. Liddell had just blocked Davis’ shot and Hepburn found Wahl at the top of the key on the inbound. Wahl faked a 3-point shot and then drove to the basket. He drew a foul against Liddell and earned a chance at the charity stripe. He split the free throws, but the missed free throw was one of the three misses Wahl had all game.

Wahl only missed two field goals — both 3-point attempts — while connecting on 80% of his shots and 50% from beyond the arc. He came into the game shooting 50% overall but had gone 0-of-17 from behind the arc.

With his 20 points in the win over the 16th-ranked Buckeyes (10-4, 4-2), Wahl is averaging 19 points over the past three games.

“I think he's a good player,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “He’s big, long, impacts both ends. He's not just a one-way player. He's a really good defender, but his offensive game is rounded in shape. He's a good player. We knew he was a good player. He just didn't play well at our place. We knew he'd be a different player at home."

Wahl was tasked with the challenge of defending Liddell, Ohio State’s leading scorer. The junior forward scored 18 points while shooting 6 of 12 from the floor, including 2 of 3 from 3-point range. He came into the game averaging 20.1 points on 50.9% shooting overall and 37.3% from 3-point range.

Liddell was held to his third lowest shooting percentage this season and fouled out the game after facing pressure from the Badgers all night.

“We tried to make catches tough,” UW coach Greg Gard said. “Try to get him out of his comfort zone. We're able to squeeze him a little bit with some help with being wary not to come off too far off good shooters because E.J. passes exceptionally well. He does so many things, you see him knock down some threes there. He's a really good player, he passes it so well, too. So it's hard to straight up double-team him. Tyler just did a good job of not giving him anything easy.”

University of Wisconsin men's basketball coach Greg Gard speaks to the media after the 13th-ranked Badgers defeated the 16th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes 78-68 in a Big Ten battle Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, at the Kohl Center in Madison.

Half of the Badgers’ six steals came for Wahl, including one with just over four minutes left in the game. Davis missed a layup with UW leading 66-55 and Liddell corralled the defensive rebound. Ohio State senior forward Justin Ahrens was bringing the ball up the court when Wahl knocked the ball out of his hands on the Buckeyes’ side of the court. Wahl finished the play with a dunk, drawing a foul on Buckeyes senior guard Jamari Wheeler. Wahl hit the free throw for a 3-point play to extend the Badgers’ lead to 14 points.

“He's played with a tremendous amount of confidence,” Gard said. “He's improved his game at all areas and finally got some threes to go in for him. Just the confidence, I think that he plays with right now, he knows that he's a really good player. … I mean, he plays exceptionally hard. It's a race between him and Brad for floor burns, who's going to be on the floor. You like to have those types of guys on your team.”

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