There is nothing like college basketball

I was fortunate enough to be in the Kohl Center yesterday when the Wisconsin Badgers beat the Ohio State Buckeyes, 71-68. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again… There is nothing like college basketball. The atmosphere, the excitement, the intensity of the players — it really can be an awesome experience.

It was a late start last night when the nationally ranked Badgers (3rd) met the nationally ranked Ohio State team (5th). A good ten or twelve minutes before the game was scheduled to begin, the Kohl Center looked to me to be full to capacity (usually all of the empty seats don’t fill in until after the game starts). Because of the strength of these two teams, this game had been highly anticipated (and overly hyped in the local media) from the beginning of the season. The atmosphere in the building was truly electric as the anxious crowd waited for the game to begin.

After several missed shots (by both teams) to start the game, Ohio State scored the first basket. It would turn out to be their only lead of the game. But the score remained close throughout the first half, with Wisconsin leading by three points at half-time.

About midway through the second half, the Badgers were up 43-41. In the next four minutes, Wisconsin went on a 14-0 scoring run, giving them a sixteen point lead. At one point in the middle of that run, those of us in the crowd were encouraging the defense at such a level, it was the loudest moment I could remember in the times I’ve been in the Kohl Center.

Ohio State’s defense did a good job of holding back Alando Tucker (who some say is a candidate for national player of the year). The box score (PDF) said Tucker ended up with 17 points, but it seemed to me it was a struggle for him to get that many. But other players stepped up. Kammron Taylor had a season-high 25 points, and Marcus Landry and Michael Flowers contributed 10 points each to the solid team effort.

Another player worth mentioning was center Jason Chappell. Both he and forward Marcus Landry did an outstanding defensive job against Ohio State’s highly touted freshman center, Greg Oden. Oden and Mike Conley (Ohio State’s leading scorers this season) were held to 10 and 7 points respectively.

Even though Wisconsin had been leading the Buckeyes by as much as 16 points in the second half, Ohio State kept their poise and inched their way back into the game. With about a minutes to go, they were behind by eight. Dad said to me “they can’t make up eight points in one minute!”

They came ever so close. Ohio State executed their strategy in the final minutes of the game almost perfectly. Their defensive efforts, a few missed free throws by Wisconsin, and some clutch shots by the Buckeyes had them within three points with just a few seconds left. Ohio State’s Jamar Butler ended up with a very good look on a three point shot, which would’ve tied the game and sent it into overtime. He missed. Those of us in the Kohl Center breathed a huge sigh of relief, before cheering a loud, appreciative ovation for the Badgers’ victory.

Yes, there is nothing like college basketball.