MADISON, Wis. Each time Ohio State basketball players gather with the coaching staff before a road game, they carefully examine pieces of paper with the scouting report for their upcoming opponent. In that regard, preparations for Saturday's crucial Big Ten game at Wisconsin were no different.
What caught the attention of several Buckeyes players was what wasn't featured prominently on the scouting report.
Head coach Thad Matta typically lists how every one of his players has fared on the road against their next opponent, including himself. Against Wisconsin, neither Ohio State's players nor its coach could boast a victory in the Kohl Center.
The win column on the scouting report was blank.
"It was all zeros," Buckeyes forward Deshaun Thomas said. "Everybody's name that was on the team. My name. Coach's name. That just motivated us to get a win."
So when No. 3 Ohio State weathered every hailstorm No. 19 Wisconsin threw its way to escape with a 58-52 victory on Saturday, the Buckeyes celebrated like they hadn't celebrated before. Frankly, they almost didn't know what to do with themselves.
Even for a team ranked third in the country with NCAA Tournament championship aspirations, this win was of particular importance - not just for the team, but for its coach.
"I've never seen coach this happy," said Thomas, who scored 16 points. "You see how he was coming off smiling? He was in there jumping around. I was like, 'Wow, coach. Is your back all right?'
"It was a great win. This team is happy. This team has potential to go a long way."
Matta, in his eighth year as Ohio State coach, had been 0-6 in Madison since taking over the program, and the Buckeyes hadn't won a game there since 2000. The most heart-wrenching of those defeats occurred last year, when Ohio State was ranked No. 1 in the country and blew a 15-point lead to lose 71-67, as Wisconsin fans stormed the court.
Ohio State made certain there would be no repeat on Saturday, even after the Badgers cut a seven-point deficit down to one in the final three minutes.
"We all talked about finishing this game," Buckeyes forward Jared Sullinger said. "They came back. That was the first thing I thought about was the flashback when we played them here last year and we were up 15 at that point. That was the first thing I thought of, and then we came together as a basketball team and got it done."
With the victory, Ohio State (20-3, 8-2 in the Big Ten) firmly grasped first place in the conference standings. Ohio State is a full game ahead of Michigan, which plays Michigan State on Sunday. The Buckeyes defeated the Wolverines 64-49 in the teams' first matchup on Jan. 29.
Wisconsin, which could have taken over first with a win, fell to 18-6 and 7-4 in league play.
Ohio State, the preseason favorite to win the league, won Saturday's game on the strength of Sullinger, a national player of the year candidate, and a host of big plays in key moments from the supporting cast.
Sullinger scored 24 points and added 10 rebounds for his 10th double-double this season. Curiously, he was not double-teamed early in the first half, and he took advantage, scoring the Buckeyes' first seven points. Nine minutes into the game, he had outscored Wisconsin's entire team, 11-10.
"I don't think I've seen single coverage since the first game of the season my freshman year," said Sullinger, a 6-foot-9 sophomore. "When I saw that, I kind of got excited. I decided to go to work."
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan insisted that single coverage wasn't a part of his plan, and that his players failed to execute early in the game.
"I'm not going to sell out any particular players or anything," Ryan said. "But if anybody thinks that's what we said we were going to do coming into that game, then you weren't at practice watching what was going on."
When the Badgers finally did double-team Sullinger, the rest of the Buckeyes made Wisconsin pay. Ohio State showed why it is in a league of its own in the Big Ten, displaying more physicality, athleticism and mental toughness than most can muster.
Each time fans inside the Kohl Center threatened to blow the roof off the arena, Ohio State responded with a critical stop or a big basket.
With 5:11 remaining, Buckeyes point guard Aaron Craft, who hadn't scored a point all game, drilled a jump shot from the right elbow for a 51-45 lead. When Wisconsin trimmed the deficit to 51-50, Sullinger poked away an entry pass into the post for a rare turnover of Wisconsin point guard Jordan Taylor.
The backbreaking play came when Buckeyes guard William Buford buried a 3-pointer on the right wing, giving Ohio State a 54-50 lead with 2:27 remaining. The Badgers would creep no closer.
"This may be the only place that I play in the Big Ten and that (coach Matta) played in the Big Ten where we haven't won," said Buford, a senior who scored 11 points. "It was a relief to get a win here."
The victory allowed Matta to slide past Ryan by mere percentage points as the winningest coach in Big Ten history. Matta has won 71.5 percent of his games during Big Ten play (93-37), while Ryan has won 70.9 percent (127-52).
Perhaps none were sweeter than Saturday's triumph for Matta, who finally conquered the toughest road task he'd ever faced.
"I wanted them to know that I was happy with this performance because we put a lot into coming up here," Matta said. "William Buford was 0-3 in here. I was 0-6. I was happy. It beats the last six times I was here."
Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter.