How else could one explain that virtually every open look No.19 Wisconsin took from the perimeter on its home floor seemed to rattle out? Five times in the final 6 minutes, 8 seconds Wisconsin made a basket to cut the lead to four points or less, and each time the Buckeyes had an answer.
All Wisconsin had to do was make a shot, and it never came. Actually it never dropped.
"Everybody was getting open looks and we've got to knock them down," said a frustrated Mike Bruesewitz, as No.19 Wisconsin missed 22 three-pointers in a 58-52 loss to No.3 Ohio State Saturday. "We were put in position … we just got to knock shots down when we are open."
No.3 Ohio State (20-3, 8-2 Big Ten) ended UW's winning streak at six games, maintained sole possession of first place and won at the Kohl Center for the first time since 2000. Meanwhile, Wisconsin (18-6, 7-4) dropped into third place, one-half game behind Michigan, despite holding the third-ranked team in the country – a unit that averaged 77.8 points per game – to a season-low 58 points.
Each loss has yielded a different problem for the Badgers that fall directly on their shoulders. Against Marquette, Wisconsin failed to match the Golden Eagles' intensity. Against Iowa, the problem was transition defense. Against Michigan State, the problem was key misses down the stretch. Saturday it was misses … from everyone on the perimeter.
Because of it, the Badgers lost at least four games at home for the first time since the 1997-98 season - a year in which Wisconsin went 12-19, 3-13 in the Big Ten and 7-8 at home – and allow three Big Ten teams to get their first win at the Kohl Center with Bo Ryan being the UW coach.
Wisconsin added to its home legacy last season with a four-point upset over then-No.1 Ohio State, and had opportunities to do it again in the rematch … but it never made a shot. With the Buckeyes seemingly daring the Badgers to hit an open look, Wisconsin shot 2-for-14 from three (14.3 percent) in the first half and 3-for-13 in the second half (23.1 percent).
"Our shoulders squared and feet looking at the basket, it had to be at least 90 percent of those," said UW coach Bo Ryan on UW's type of three-point shots. "I can think of maybe one, possible two, that weren't those type of threes. When we're hitting them, we can look pretty good on the offensive end."
It also didn't help that Ohio State's two key contributors are leaps and bounds better than last season.
Sophomore Jared Sullinger spurred the NBA last season so he could continue to develop his game. Not only did he shed the freshman 15 (plus roughly 10 more), he became twice the player, scoring a game-high 24 points on 8-for-16 shooting, including 8-for-10 from the line, and grabbed 10 rebounds.
"It was exciting," said Sullinger. "It was very exciting. Nobody on this team has won here. On top of that, the Kohl Center is a very, very tough place to play."
Sophomore Aaron Craft was a non-factor offensively – just three points on one made field goal – but it was his defensive work against Jordan Taylor that yielded dividend. A year after Taylor was able to shake Craft with his dribble and create open looks for himself with high ball screens, Taylor could only manage 12 points on 4-for-10 shooting.
After not having a turnover since the 19:40 mark in the second half against Northwestern, Taylor had three against the Buckeyes – the most damaging coming with 1:25 remaining when he was whistled for traveling.
"Kind of disappointing," said Taylor. "I felt I could of made more shots, been more aggressive in the second half but there's nothing I can do about it now."
Deshaun Thomas added 16 points and the Buckeyes hit 13 of 16 free-throw attempts – a stark comparison to Taylor hitting all three of UW's free throws. Still, Wisconsin had a chance, thanks to junior Mike Bruesewitz.
Just like he did the year before, Bruesewitz attempted to carry a limping Wisconsin to the finish line. After hitting a key three-pointer last year to give UW a five-point lead with 30 seconds left, Bruesewitz came to life in the second half. He scored nine of his 11 points after halftime, scored six of his points off offensive rebounds and hit a three-pointer with 3:46 left.
That followed his block of Sullinger and a defensive rebound - one of a game-high 11 rebounds he grabbed in the game – to give UW some life.
Problem was UW's next three possessions were a Taylor turnover, a Bruesewitz missed three-pointer and another Taylor turnover, as Ohio State went on a 5-0 run jumpstarted by a big three-pointer by William Buford (4-for-15, 11 points). Wisconsin closed the game by missing its last three three-pointers.
"If you remember what happened last year (UW shooting 12-of-24 from three), I was nervous as hell every time they let it go," said Ohio State coach Thad Matta, now 1-6 in the Kohl Center. "They had good looks … They just didn't go down for them."
Wisconsin went 14 three-point misses in between makes but even after Jared Berggren (10 points) ended the drought with 15:35 remaining, the Badgers went back comatose, missing two of their final nine.
The Buckeyes were even worse shooting from the perimeter – not making their first three until Buford's shot with 2:27 left – but Ohio State compensated by pounding the ball to Sullinger in the post and not letting Wisconsin attempt a free throw until there was 6:46 left.
After scoring 19 points in the team's meeting last February, Sullinger was a low-block force early on, scoring 16 of his team's 28 first-half points, but was limited to only eight in the second half once Ryan switched Berggren off the sophomore and put Ryan Evans (team-high 14 points) and Bruesewitz on him.
"I just wanted people you wanted to move their feet and not allow a pass to enter the post," Ryan said. "That was an easy decision. How many post touches did he have after that?"
As has been the trend in the last four games, Wisconsin finished under 42 percent shooting in the first half, but managed to be within six points. Consider that close to a reoccurring anomaly, especially when Wisconsin missed its final 12 three-pointers to end the first half and Taylor went 17:22 between made buckets.
Instead of an abnormality, it was foreshadowing of another tough shooting performance and another chink in the Kohl Center armor.
"We take pride in how hard we play, and that's what you have control over," said Ryan, who is now 163-15 (.916) at home. "The results after the game is done you can't change, so you have no control over an end result. Our guys take a lot of pride being a good team, home or away.
"Some years maybe you've got some weaknesses, maybe you're not quite as consistent in some areas, things like that. As it's been said many times, it's hard to be consistent at the highest competitive level."