With each victory this season, the question loomed larger: would it do the Buckeyes some good to lose a game now, before tournament play rolled around? The prevailing sentiment was that losing a game during the regular season would help teach the team some important lessons about itself as well as relieve the pressure of going undefeated from the Buckeyes.
Any of those thoughts could be true, but here is something that is not good: blowing a 15-point second-half lead. I do not care if you are at home or on the road, playing a top-15 team or an unranked one: allowing that kind of deficit to disappear is never a good thing regardless of your record.
What was most troubling during the stretch was that OSU had absolutely no answer for an opposing player for the first time all season. After being largely held in check by Aaron Craft during the first half, Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor went off in the second stanza. His game-high 27 points are telling enough, but the junior also put up 18 during a 30-8 game-changing run.
That is not a typo: the Buckeyes allowed an opponent to put up a 30-8 run. On the heels of a 28-8 run of their own, nonetheless. It is too much to expect baskets to come as easily for an entire game as they did for OSU during that spurt that extended from the end of the first half into the second, but it is not too much to expect some solid defensive stops to come from the Buckeyes.
Instead, you saw confusion. You saw a number of players trying to stick Taylor to no avail. You saw the Badgers come up with a few crucial offensive rebounds down the stretch. You saw a team go away from what had been working for much of the game.
It all added up to a disappointing loss for the Buckeyes. Expecting a win in this one was folly; Wisconsin is obviously a great team and tough to beat at home. But it was not too much to expect OSU not to surrender such a massive run to the Badgers.
I think … that although he put up another double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds, Jared Sullinger did not seem to directly impact the outcome of the game this time out.
The freshman's effort clearly was there. I love the fact that he told us to judge him by his rebounding numbers, and grabbing more of them than anyone else on the court is a sure sign to me that he was dialed in. However, it did not seem like the Buckeyes made it their primary goal to get the ball inside to him.
Some of that was likely due to the fact that William Buford shot the ball like an NBA player for the first 25 minutes of the game. As he disappeared from the game, however, there was not as much of an emphasis placed on getting the ball inside to Sullinger as I would have liked to see.
The freshman finished with four free-throw attempts – his second-lowest total in Big Ten play. If OSU had been pounding the ball inside to Sullinger, he would have been much more active at the charity stripe and the Badgers would have had a more difficult time turning the game around.
I think … that if there is any good to come from this game it is that the coaches will recognize that it proves the Buckeyes still have plenty of ways to grow.
Watching game film of the second half will be a fantastic learning experience for this team. Simply put, we had not seen them play like that at any point this season. That means they had not seen themselves play like that either.
This provides plenty of teachable moments for head coach Thad Matta and his staff. Matta has said all season that this team is more dialed into film sessions than any other team he has coached. If that holds true after this one, the Buckeyes will improve from this.
I think … that although he had his moments, Craft is still clearly growing as a player.
The freshman entered the game having averaged 4.1 turnovers in his last seven games. In this one, he finished with two against six assists but clearly ran out of answers in trying to stop Taylor.
It is a bit early to expect Craft to be able to do everything. You just have to wish that someone else could have stepped up and stopped Taylor so Craft could have focused in more on other parts of the game.
You had to love his second-half jumpers, however. The kid has some ice water running in those veins.