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
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).
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.
Brad 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.
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.
Junior forward E.J. Liddell killed UW in the teams’ first meeting with 28 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks.
Thursday he was quiet for the first 20 minutes. 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.
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.
UW hit 4 of 5 three-pointers and 7 of 10 shots overall in the first 6:29 to build an 18-7 lead.
The lead reached 35-21 on a three-pointer from Lorne Bowman with 4:35 left. UW had a chance to push the lead to at least 15 points in the closing seconds but Chucky Hepburn was called for double-dribble with 10.6 seconds left.
Liddell missed a jumper at the buzzer, however, and the lead stayed at 40-27.
The Badgers pushed the lead to 43-27 when Wahl hit his second three-pointer of the night but Ohio State got back-to-back baskets from Liddell in an 8-0 run to close within 43-35.
Chris Vogt ended the run with a basket in the lane off a feed from Davison for a 45-35 lead.
After the Buckeyes failed to score, Davison scored on a drive, was fouled and hit the free-throw for a 48-35 lead.
The Buckeyes came up empty on their next two possessions and Davis hit back-to-back baskets to help UW push the lead to 52-35 with 13:36 remaining.
UW’s lead was 56-42 after two free throws by Davis but Liddell scored five points in a 7-0 run to help the Buckeyes pull within 56-49 with 8:51 left.
Ohio State kept pushing but Davison hit a three-pointer, Wahl scored inside, Crowl scored inside and Wahl converted a three-point play after his third steal and UW’s lead was back to 69-55 with 4:15 left.
Crowl scored inside and Davison and Wahl converted three-point plays after the Buckeyes pulled within 61-55 and Davison helped secure the victory with the two free throws late.
Our subscribers make this reporting possible. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Journal Sentinel at jsonline.com/deal.
DOWNLOAD THE APP: Get the latest news, sports and more
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin 78, Ohio State 68: Brad Davison, Tyler Wahl carry Badgers