Thad Matta looked at the stat sheet after the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team's stirring 71-67 victory over No. 1 Ohio State and couldn't help but notice the Buckeyes did just about everything better than the Badgers Saturday afternoon at the Kohl Center.
"They had to play, for that stretch, darned near perfect to get us and they did," Matta said after the No. 13 Badgers handed the Buckeyes their first loss of the season behind a bolt-of-lightning 15-0 run that ignited one of the greatest rallies in program history.
UW coach Bo Ryan didn't disagree after the Badgers (19-5, 9-3 Big Ten) recovered from a 15-point second-half deficit to earn the win and close within two games of the Buckeyes (24-1, 11-1) in the Big Ten Conference standings.
"In that spurt, whew, Jordan Taylor was as good as it gets and he was the one that spearheaded it," Ryan said.
If few outside the state of Wisconsin knew who Jordan Taylor was before this game, the Badgers' 6-foot-2 junior guard delivered an emphatic introduction with the 27-point, seven-assist, four-rebound hammer he pounded on what was the last undefeated team in NCAA Division I.
Topping it off for him was a ride on the shoulders of the thousands of delirious UW students who swarmed the court after the Badgers defeated a No. 1 team for the first time since they whipped Ohio State 86-67 on March 3, 1962.
"Just to be another court-rusher game like that, similar to Duke last year, was unbelievable," a smiling Taylor said, referring to the Badgers' 73-69 win over the Blue Devils on Dec. 2, 2009. "It's something you'll remember forever."
It paled in comparison to the rally Taylor led that will be etched into the lore of a proud program and re-told for generations. It also completed a great sports week in the state that began with the Green Bay Packers beating the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in Super Bowl XLV last Sunday
Ohio State made nine of its first 10 shots of the second half, grabbing a 47-32 lead on Jon Diebler's 3-pointer with 13 minutes, 59 seconds to go. It took Taylor less than two minutes from that point to score eight points, on a runner and back-to-back 3-pointers, forcing the Buckeyes to call a timeout and cranking up an already energized sellout crowd.
"You could feel the energy in the building and the crowd and we just fed off that," said UW senior forward Jon Leuer, who had 12 points and six rebounds. "It was unbelievable what he was able to do in such a short period of time when we were battling adversity."
After sophomore Mike Bruesewitz made two free throws, Taylor scored on a drive and then assisted on freshman Josh Gasser's 3 that ended the run and tied the score at 47 with 9:47 left.
"We were just staying aggressive and having trust in one another and eventually things started going our way a little bit," Taylor said.
It took the Badgers just seven possessions and 4:12 to make five straight shots and two free throws while forcing Ohio State into four straight misses and a turnover to tie the game. And Taylor was involved in every offensive play.
"I don't know what exactly we could have done differently," Matta shrugged as he tried to explain his team's defensive effort during the run.
The Buckeyes moved back ahead 53-49 before Taylor scored eight points and assisted on a Bruesewitz 3-pointer and a Keaton Nankivil jumper during a 13-2 run to move the Badgers ahead 62-55 with 4:17 left.
After two free throws by freshman forward Jared Sullinger, who led the Buckeyes with 19 points and 12 rebounds, cut the deficit to 65-63 with 59.4 seconds left, Bruesewitz broke the Buckeyes' back with a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 29 seconds left. Taylor hit two free throws and Leuer added another to close out the scoring for the Badgers.
Taylor finished the final 13 minutes with 21 points after making six of his last seven shots, including four of five 3-pointers. He also had four assists, two rebounds and no turnovers.
"I'd like to be able to explain that, but it's hard, even for me, and I see him every day," Ryan said.
As Matta said, it was a darned near perfect performance by Taylor and the Badgers. "They deserve credit for that," he said.