With the opportunity to go up three in the final seconds, Lenzelle Smith Jr. missed a wide-open layup and fell to the court with the ball in his hands in his haste to try and recover. Wisconsin was getting the ball back on a travel with 8.4 seconds left with a chance to win in a building where they've never lost three straight games under Bo Ryan. That is, until now.
A botched final possession led to an off-balanced 3-point attempt by Sam Dekker that bounced off the back iron, leading to more questions, disgust and frustration following a 59-58 defeat at the hands of No.24 Ohio State.
Bringing the ball up court, junior guard Traevon Jackson tried to make a move on senior Aaron Craft – one of the best defenders in the conference. Ball pressure from Craft and a double team from LaQuinton Ross allowed too much time to drip off the clock before Jackson could pass the ball, leaving Dekker little chance for a high-percentage shot.
"He lost the ball on the dribble," said Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, referring to Jackson. "He miss dribbled and he had to pick it up … He loses his dribble, so we can't make a good, solid play. It was just mishandled."
It was also expected. With Jackson's propensity to take the big shot, Ohio State coach Thad Matta said the Buckeyes (17-5, 4-5 Big Ten) had Jackson marked, knowing he was probably going to be the one who was going to try and create something.
"He likes big shots and he loves the ball at the end of the shot clock, end of games," said Matta. "He's hit like 19 game winners in his time here, so we told our guys he's probably going to take the shot."
"Groundhog Day" has arrived for Wisconsin, as the Badgers are stuck in the same familiar script being played over and over and over again. Losers of five of six and three straight home games for the first time since the 1997-98 season, it came down to shooting for the second time this week.
The Badgers shot only 36 percent in the second half, 40 percent for the game and went 3-for-17 from the 3-point line, including 1-for-9 in the second half. In the last two games Wisconsin is 33 of 102 overall (32.4 percent) and 8 of 41 (19.5 percent) from the 3-point line.
"I've a hard time figuring out how the last two games we haven't knocked down more perimeter shots," said Ryan. "That I don't understand."
To make matters worse, Wisconsin was given multiple chances to take control of the game, but never capitalized, another reoccurring theme for a team who is season its season spiral well out of control.
UW finally appeared to take control of the back-and-forth title with a 13-2 run midway through the second half, capped by a Hayes' made free throw to put UW up 52-45. Wisconsin only made one field goal the remainder of the game, including none over the final 6:44.
"We just couldn't get that next bucket," said UW's Josh Gasser. "We couldn't get that next stop. We had a few turnovers, a few missed looks and they made some plays that kept them in it. That's what you have to do when you're coming from behind."
Par t of the reason for no field goals was Wisconsin getting to the free throw line, but that didn't turn out to be much better. UW went 6-for-14 in the second half from the free throw line, including 4-for-10 during the final stretch; a stark turnaround from the first half went UW went 13-for-15.
Freshman Nigel Hayes scored a game-high 17 points, including 13 in the second half, but was only concerned about his 5-for-11 performance from the free throw line.
"I missed more free throws than I made, and that's a big problem," said Hayes.
It also doesn't help when Wisconsin has a point guard who is floundering. In the last five games, Traevon Jackson is 12-for-45 (26.7 percent) from the floor with an assist-to-turnover ratio of .96 (24-25).
Jackson was not made available to reporters after the game.
A day after his team was out muscled, out hustled and out worked by Northwestern, Dekker didn't rant, but delivered critical, calculated remarks about a January stretch that saw Wisconsin's 16-0 start be well forgotten.
On a team that appeared to be without a true vocal leader, the sophomore said that the Badgers, himself included, were playing too soft, showing weakness and not responding when being punched in the mouth.
Those words seemed to provide a boost early. Wisconsin started 4-4 from the floor and 6-6 from the free throw line, success based on the willingness of Wisconsin to attack the post. Frank Kaminsky, Jackson and Dekker all made efforts to drive the ball into the paint over the first five minutes.
Ryan also relied more on his bench three main bench players –Hayes, Duje Dukan and Bronson Koenig - all entered by the 15:40 mark, with Koenig following the theme, penetrating into the lane and kicking it out to Ben Brust for a wide-open three to give Wisconsin an early eight-point lead.
Even when shots weren't falling, Wisconsin was attacking the rim, as Dekker putback slam off a Gasser missed 3-pointer ignited the crowd.
But when Dekker went to the bench, the energy waned, as has been the case for the majority of the past month. Wisconsin finished the half 3-for-13 from the field, Dekker never scored again, Dukan and Koenig combined for one minute in the second half and UW finished with just 12 points in the paint, watching helplessly as Ohio State closed the deal.
"I thought we had better composure," said Matta. "I thought we had a better pace about us. I thought we executed better down the stretch in terms of getting what we were trying to get out of our offense."
The same surely can't be said about Wisconsin.