After going toe-to-toe with some of the best teams in the conference, let alone in the country, No.22 Wisconsin finally ran out of steam, as No.10 Ohio State used a late run to win its fourth tournament championship with a 50-41 victory Sunday afternoon.
Wisconsin (23-11) fell to 2-3 in title games, which includes a 66-49 setback to Ohio State the last time the Big Ten Tournament was held at the United Center. The only good news is that Wisconsin now has some time to recover.
Being selected for a program-record 15th straight NCAA Tournament, Wisconsin was given a No.5 seed in the West Region and will play SEC tournament champion, Ole Miss, in Kansas City, Mo., Friday. The sting of failing to win either conference championship, however, wasn't easily whipped away.
"This was our last chance at (a Big Ten title)," said senior Jared Berggren, who was held to only two points. "We just got to turn the page and know there is one more chance to make a run."
Wisconsin will be playing with a purpose. After shooting about 50 percent for three straight halves in the conference tournament, the Badgers shot only 38.3 percent from the floor, including 16.7 percent (3-for-18) from 3-point range, and only Traevon Jackson (10 points) reached double figures for Wisconsin.
"Ohio State defensively is a tough team because they read and react and they help and recover," said UW coach Bo Ryan. "They are long and athletic. They made it difficult for us to get the looks that we always like to have. That's why they call it defense.
"How do you hold a team 1-for-16, like we did against them, from 3-point range? I thought we did an excellent job that way. We just needed to get a few more at the other end."
After each team won a decisive victory on its home court during the regular season, it was only fitting that neither team led by more than two points through the first 15:29 of the second half. That changed after Sam Dekker's reverse layup gave the Badgers a 41-39 lead with 7:03 remaining. That turned out to be the last field goal the Badgers made in the Windy City.
Watching Ohio State close the game on an 11-2 run, the Badgers final 10 possessions included 0-for-6 from the floor, 0-for-3 from 3-point range, two turnovers and one missed free throw on the front end of the bonus. The only points Wisconsin got was two free throws from Jackson.
"Shots didn't fall, we did run our stuff well, they took away some looks, we forced some shots that weren't characteristic of what we do," said Dekker. "It always hurts when you look back and say if we would have done this or could have done that, things would have went differently."
With Wisconsin cold, Ohio State went on an 8-0 run that was punctuated by LaQuinton Ross scoring consecutive points in the paint. A day after UW's 30 points in the paint set up its win over Indiana, the Buckeyes held Wisconsin to only 22 points.
Since losing to the Badgers February 17, Ohio State has won eight straight games.
"They're good," said senior Ryan Evans of Ohio State. "They scouted us well. They held us to 43 points to their credit. That's a great game for them. "
After holding 3/5th of the media All-Big Ten first team to 36.6 percent shooting (16-for-44) in two games, Wisconsin did its part again against juniors Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft. Named to the all-tournament team, Thomas scored a game-high 17 points, but needed 19 shots to get there.
Craft, named the tournament's most outstanding player, finished 4-for-9 with nine points, but had only one assist, no steals and three turnovers.
The problem for Wisconsin was the rebounding, as Ohio State grabbed 11 more rebounds – including seven offensive boards – to set up extra opportunities.
"That's the way the ball bounces sometimes," said Berggren. "We didn't do enough in terms of cleaning up the offensive glass and taking care of the ball … When you are giving them second chances, that ruins your chances, especially when you aren't shooting well."
The offense wasn't an issue in the first half. Wisconsin used an 18-0 in the Badgers' 22-point win exactly one month ago, so the Badgers' 18-2 run conjured up some familiar memories. Problem was the Badgers couldn't sustain it against a spastic Ohio State offense.
Starting the game 6-for-12, Ohio State proceeded to go one for its next eight, only to finish on 8-0 run when the Badgers' post defense sagged and the offense didn't convert on their final five possessions; foreshadowing of what was to come.
"I don't think we were comfortable out there from an offensive standpoint today," said Evans. "Came out a little bit flat, nobody got us going and that was the difference in the game."
"It didn't go our way today, but there's more basketball to be played," added Berggren. "We just got to get refocused, try to carry over the positives, learn from the mistakes, just move forward and get ready for another run."