COLUMBUS — Having just dispensed with their first losing streak — a meager two games — in the last three years, the 13th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes get little time to rest.
For that matter, neither does their next opponent.
After a closer-than-the-score-indicates 69-59 win over scrappy Northwestern on Thursday, the Buckeyes hit the road on Sunday to play at No. 20 Wisconsin. The Badgers were also busy the same time as Ohio State, losing 58-53 in overtime at Minnesota.
The game is a huge road test for the Buckeyes.
Deshaun Thomas, leading the Big Ten in scoring, has been around for some big victories in foreign territory the last two seasons.
He knows what such a win can mean to a team.
“It ignites everybody and gives us confidence in our team,” he said.
With the season winding down, the game will be a way of winnowing the Big Ten field for the stretch run: The Buckeyes and Badgers are each 8-4 in conference play and tied for third with Michigan, two games back of co-leaders Indiana and Michigan State.
“What are we, like third in the Big Ten? So, you know, [if we win], people are going to have to watch out at Michigan State and Indiana,” Thomas said.
Wisconsin (17-8, 8-4) is as good as anybody in the nation at home. The Badgers are 179-17 over the last 12 years at Kohl Center, including 29-11 against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25.
One of those losses came a year ago when the Buckeyes beat Wisconsin 58-52.
No one knows how difficult it is to win away from home in the Big Ten than Thad Matta — and he's had a lot of success while winning conference titles the last three years and five of the last seven during his nine seasons at Ohio State (18-6, 8-4).
“That's something that is a lot easier said than done,” he said of winning on the road.
“No. 1, it's just the competitive nature of how this league is. No. 2, it's the venues you go into, every game is as challenging of an environment as it can be.”
Thomas knows that neither team can afford another loss.
“If we lose one more game, it could be not our chance this year to win the Big Ten,” he said.
Asked if his team was almost facing a series of elimination games similar to an early start to the NCAA tournament, Matta chuckled.
“I feel like it's been that way since January,” he said.