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.”
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.”
Badgers fans on Twitter have high hopes for season after Wisconsin gets back at Ohio State Buckeyes
It takes a village
The more I watch THIS team, the more I’m reminded that getting better is a two-way street between players and coaches. And right now it’s rush hour in the Badgers’ effort & improvement departments.— Rob Hernandez (@RobHernandezGLF) January 14, 2022
Picking up the slack
Impressive to win by 10 with Davis struggling. Others stepped up big and D was mostly excellent.— Chris Davis (@cdavis20000) January 14, 2022
On the right track
What a third wheel
We finally found our 3rd scorer. I think that Johnny Davis guy can be pretty good in that role.— Chris Mulhern (@therealcmully) January 14, 2022
Laying a solid foundation
Good to see others step up when Davis doesn’t have his greatest night. Important for a B1G championship and NCAA tourney run.— Mitchell Gauger (@MitchellGauger) January 14, 2022
Timing is everything
If you’re not getting better in Jan and Feb, your season comes to an abrupt end in March. This team continues to improve, and they found their third guy.— Jeff (@bluehighway15) January 14, 2022
Sky's the limit
Doing it the right way
Basketball a team game and this Badger team is fun to watch. Stay healthy as it’s only halfway in this season.— mike kerry (@BadgerMike) January 14, 2022
A budding star
Wahls emergence makes this team scary. Being able to beat OSU by 10 with Johnny going 4-18 is nuts.— Matt Anderson (@mbanderson83) January 14, 2022
Johnny missed 14 shots and they still won by 10. 📈— Zach Kruse (@zachkruse2) January 14, 2022
Take what comes
Seems like WI ran poor offense at times (lots of weird pullups and out of rhythm shots) ... but unlike some other games WI hit a lot of shots tonight and played great defense.— Nick P Bassill (@NickPBassill) January 14, 2022
I love Wahl's game so much in part because he doesn't ever force bad shots.
Pack your bags!
Flights to and from New Orleans from Milwaukee the first weekend in April are under $400 round trip... Just saying— Chris Cesar (@Cesar_Chris) January 14, 2022
There were people who didn’t think this team would win 14 games all year! Tonight showed that this team is more than just Johnny Davis.— Dean Sonsalla (@dsonsalla30) January 14, 2022
Giving it their all
Next man up
Davis’s shotmaking has been off now for parts of two games and this one. But the opponents are collapsing on him and that opens it up for Wahl to shine. Davison has been great! The D has been mostly fantastic!— rick brown (@rickbrown35) January 14, 2022
Gritty, not pretty
Grit plain and simple! Special group.— Dan Kurek (@danielwkurek) January 14, 2022
Patience is a virtue
Total team effort. Would like to see Chucky score more -pretty important for a point guard. Go Badgers!!— Mary Korn Erickson (@sixtiesfan) January 14, 2022
No time to get sloppy
Guess the Badgers “wanted it more” great team win. We just need to make sure we are getting good looks and taking good shots when we get big leads!!!— Todd Grauvogl (@GrauvoglTodd) January 14, 2022
Focus on finishing strong
Great win. Need to close better and stop the hero ball. Take what the defense is giving you in late game situations.— Thömas A. Miller (@UWBone24) January 14, 2022
A lot to like
Another good resume win & we avenged our only “real” loss— chuckwestover (@chuckwestover) January 14, 2022
JD shot awful but played good D, grabbed 9 boards, passed well
If Wahl & Crowl can keep this up, this team is scary
Davison was so good
We passed really well & hit our 3s
Let’s get Hepburn going
Love this team
Passion is palpable
We have an energy that seems unmatched at the moment. I love it and I want them to sustain it. I kind of expected a better game a few leads changes, that sort of thing.— Tracie McCulla (@TracieMcCulla) January 14, 2022
Woe is them
Bad year for the Gard haters.— Cary McNatt (@clmcnatt) January 14, 2022
Hey, it could happen
Best team ever— aarondentz (@aarondentz) January 14, 2022