MADISON – The top of the Big Ten men’s basketball standings are getting crowded.
Michigan State and Illinois are arm-wrestling for first place at 5-0.
The team next in line at 5-1? That would be Wisconsin, which was picked 10th in the league’s preseason media poll.
UW, ranked No. 13 in both major top 25 polls, closed the gap on the leaders with an impressive 78-68 victory over No. 15 Ohio State Thursday night at the Kohl Center.
How impressive was this victory?
UW won despite the fact that Johnny Davis hit just 4 of 18 shots and was the Badgers’ No. 3 scorer.
Box score: Wisconsin 78, Ohio State 68
More: Versatile Tyler Wahl lifts his overall game to include more scoring for the Wisconsin basketball team
More: Sophomore Johnny Davis is illustrating, as others did before him, that a player with NBA-level talent can flourish at UW
“It is a perfect example,” Davis said. “It just shows you that not one player is the entire team.”
The Badgers (14-2, 5-1 Big Ten) extended their winning streak to six games to move within one-half game of Big Ten co-leaders Michigan State (14-2, 5-0) and Illinois (5-0, 12-3).
UW is off to its best start since the 2014-15 team opened 3-0 in the league and 15-1 overall.
Ohio State (10-4, 4-2), lost for the second time in three games, both on the road.
The Badgers shot just 23.1% from three-point range (6 of 26) and lost the rebound battle, 41-23, in their 18-point loss to the Buckeyes last month in Columbus. On Thursday, UW shot 43.5% from three-point range (10 of 23) and earned a draw on the glass, 33-33.
“We always say missing shots is contagious, but so is making shots,” Brad Davison said. “When you see a couple go in, that breeds confidence.”
Davison (14.5 ppg) scored 25 points, Tyler Wahl (10.2 ppg) added 20 and Davis (22.3 ppg) finished with 14.
Wahl, who had just three points and one rebound in 23 minutes in the teams’ first meeting, was the best player on the floor for much of the game Thursday.
The junior contributed 12 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals in the opening half to help UW build a 40-27 lead. He finished with seven rebounds, six assists and three steals and hit 2 of 4 three-pointers.
Wahl entered the night 0 of 17 from three-point range.
“I shoot them in practice,” Wahl said. “My teammates have confidence in me. If I get an open look I am more than confident to put it up.”
Davis took the opportunity to tweak his teammate.
“I see it in practice every day,” Davis said. “It shouldn’t have taken him this long to hit his first three but it was a damn good time to do it.”
Davison scored 16 of his points in the second half and hit several big shots. He hit a three-pointer to give UW a 72-57 lead with 3 minutes 34 seconds left and added two free throws to push the lad to 74-57 with 3:18 left.
Then after the Buckeyes went on an 11-0 run to pull within six, Davison hit two free throws with 45.8 seconds left o give UW an eight-point cushion.
Davis contributed nine rebounds and two assists despite the off night shooting.
Steven Crowl (8.7 ppg) contributed two rebounds, zero points and three turnovers in the loss in Columbus. He had five points, three rebounds and two assists in the first half Thursday and finished with nine points, seven rebounds and three assists.
“Give Wisconsin credit,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “I thought they played with force and physicality.
“They really imposed themselves, particularly in the first 20 minutes, which I thought was the difference in the game.
“We couldn’t ever get it to a one-possession game.
Junior forward E.J. Liddell killed UW in the teams’ first meeting with 28 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks.
He was quiet for the first 20 minutes Thursday. Liddell had four points, three assists and zero rebounds in the first half but finished with 18 points and six rebounds to lead five players in double figures before fouling out with 3:18 left.
“He played harder,” Holtmann said when asked why Liddell was more productive in the second half. “He played with more force, more physicality. Bottom line.”
While the Badgers flourished from three-point range, the Buckeyes foundered.
Ohio State entered the night shooting 39.2% from three-point range but finished 3 of 19 Thursday (15.8%).
“We had some good looks that we missed,” Holtmann said, “but I also thought they really hug shooters. They’re not going to give your best shooters clean looks.”
The Badgers turned the ball over seven times in the first half but otherwise played outstanding basketball on both ends of the court.
UW hit 7 of 13 three-pointers and 14 of 29 shots overall and scored 10 points off seven Ohio State turnovers in building a 40-27 lead they never lost.
The Badgers never trailed in the game, led by as many as 17 points after halftime and led for 39:06 overall.
Not a bad performance considering Davis’ scoring struggles.
“I think what it shows you is this team is more than Johnny,” UW coach Greg Gard said. “Johnny is obviously really important. He is a great player. But I thought all along we had some really good pieces.
“Maybe they weren’t household names, but as this team has continued to come together we’ve seen some of those guys kind of emerge.
“Having other guys step up and do a lot of good things offensively is just a sign of a really good team.”
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin 78, Ohio State 68: Brad Davison, Tyler Wahl carry Badgers