Beaten on hustle plays, the boards and practically everywhere else, No.16 Wisconsin suffered an 83-73 loss to the Buckeyes Value City Arena that put a big dent in its Big Ten titles hopes.
Losing three of its last four, Wisconsin (22-6, 11-4 Big Ten) now sits one game behind Purdue in the Big Ten standings with three games to go and a road trip to Michigan State – where the Badgers haven’t won since 2004 – up next.
“We let them get comfortable early, something we had talked about knowing the talent they've got in this group that they can do that to you,” Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard said. “We didn't follow what we had talked about for two days in terms of letting them do what they wanted to do.”
Making his return to the starting lineup, Bronson Koenig scored a game-high 27 points on 9-of-15 shooting, including five 3-pointers to surpass former guard Ben Brust as the school’s all-time 3-point marksman. Outside of D'Mitrik Trice scoring 14 points in his home state, the Badgers’ frontcourt was well off target.
Ethan Happ attempted only one field goal in six first-half minutes and finished with a season-low four points. In two games against the Buckeyes, Happ scored 10 points on 5-for-15 shooting.
Ohio native Vitto Brown scored nine points but shot under 40 percent for the seventh time in the last eight games while fellow Ohioan Nigel Hayes – a week after saying he needed to be more aggressive – had seven points on just six shots and seven free throw attempts.
Wisconsin shot 43.9 percent (25 of 57) from the floor and 43.3 percent (13 of 30) from 3-point range.
Ohio State (16-13, 6-10) spent the last week stewing about letting an 11-point lead with less than six minutes left evaporate in an one-point loss. Buckeyes coach Thad Matta – who on Thursday coached more games at Ohio State (457) than any of his previous successors – challenged his team to provide complete effort for a full 40 minutes.
They did. The Buckeyes dominated the first half, holding an 18-2 advantage for points in the paint and grabbing 23 rebounds compared to Wisconsin's 12. Ohio State finished with a 22-18 edge in the paint and won the rebound battle, 38-25.
For a team playing with a Big Ten title on the line, the Badgers led for only one minutes, 18 seconds.
“The numbers told the story in the first half,” Gard said. “As soon as I saw the stat sheet, it confirmed what my eyes told me in the first half.”
“Our offense wasn’t got what got us in trouble, it was our inability to stop them, specifically in the first half,” he added. “We dug ourselves such a big hole. We had not been that porous defensively, that disconnected or disjointed, in a long time.”
Ohio State shot 50.0 percent (25 of 50) from the field and 62.5 percent (10 of 16) from 3-point range against a Badgers defense that was fourth in the nation in scoring (60.5 points per game), holding its last 16 opponents under 80 points (15 of those games under 70).
It was a complete role reversal from the team’s first meeting, as Wisconsin hung 89 points on Ohio State by hitting 12 of 22 three-pointers (54.5 percent), turned 21 offensive rebounds into 28 second-chance points and outscored the Buckeyes, 42-22, in the paint.
UW didn’t come close to sniffing any of those hustle numbers, not when letting the Buckeyes dictate the game.
C.J. Jackson led four Buckeyes in double figures with a career-high 18 points, going a perfect 4 of 4 from 3-point range. The sophomore guard also had four rebounds, four assists and four steals.
“My teammates have great confidence in me," Jackson said. "They encourage me to shoot the ball and that’s what I was doing tonight. I just wanted to be more aggressive as well as get my teammates involved. I kind of looked for my shot a little bit more.”
Jae'Sean Tate had 13 points and 10 rebounds in the first 20 minutes alone, as the Buckeyes led by as many as 16 points in the opening period.
Wisconsin cut the lead to nine on four separate occasions within the first nine minutes of the second half. The last of such occurrence happened when Happ made a layup at the 11:00 mark to make it 56-47.
The Buckeyes then scored eight of the game's next 10 points to extend their lead to 62-47 with 9:19 left. JaQuan Lyle (17 points, 10-for-10 free throws) hit a jumper and three while Jackson knocked down a trey during the stretch. OSU led by at least 10 points the rest of the way and as many as 20 to pull off the upset.
“I feel like everybody was on the same page,” Tate said. “We played hard and it seemed like we couldn’t miss. That just comes from preparation two days before, we had two pretty good practices. We’ve just got to build off of this.”
And Wisconsin has to pick up the pieces, knowing full well its given away control of the Big Ten race over the last 11 days.
“We finally get the ball to go in after scuffling for a month, and then we can’t get stops,” Gard said. “We should have bottled some of the defense we’ve been playing over the last month.”