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Sunday, September 24, 2023

Men's Basketball: Wisconsin falls to Ohio State in Big Ten title game

CHICAGO- Storybook endings are nice but in the world of sports, they rarely come to fruition. After three games against top-10 competition this weekend in Chicago, the slipper finally fell off of Cinderella’s foot as No. 22 Wisconsin (12-6 Big Ten, 23-11 overall) went without a field goal over the final 7:03 that turned a 41-39 lead into a 50-43 loss at the hands of No. 10 Ohio State (13-5, 26-7).

“If someone had told me you’d get Michigan, Ohio State and Indiana and we’ll give you two out of three, I think I’d take it,” head coach Bo Ryan said. “But you always want that last one.”

For most of the afternoon, it looked like UW might have enough in the tank to finish its surprising run in Chicago with a Big Ten Tournament title. The Badgers recovered from a sluggish start and went on an 18-2 run during the middle part of the 1st half to turn a 13-6 deficit into a 24-15 lead. But as has been a trend of late with UW, the offensive sputtered into the locker room, allowing OSU to close within one on the strength of an 8-0 run.

 “We didn’t need to let them get some confidence going into halftime,” junior guard Ben Brust said. “I think that’s what we did a better job of the past two games; of us having the momentum and not the other team.”

 Though Ohio State would regain the lead on the opening possession of the second half, Wisconsin continued to hang tough. After six ties and nine lead changes, the Badgers held a 41-39 lead when freshman forward Sam Dekker finished off a feed from fellow freshman George Marshall with 7:03 left in the game.

 But just 19 seconds later OSU junior forward DeShaun Thomas would tie the game at 41 with two free throws. After junior guard Aaron Craft went coast-to-coast off a turnover on the next possession, UW was in a two-point hole and Ohio State was on its way to an 8-0 run with Wisconsin’s hopes of a first Big Ten title since 2008 quickly fading away.

 “They outworked us in the second half,” Dekker said. “They made looks difficult for us and we didn’t take advantage of the opportunities we had to make a comeback at the end.”

 The shots that had been falling against Indiana and Michigan simply weren’t going down on Sunday. The Badgers finished the game just 3-of-18 from three-point range and managed to shoot just 38 percent from the field overall. More importantly, Wisconsin failed to establish a presence in the post. While the Buckeyes scored 30 points in the paint, UW managed just 22, and this lack of inside presence ultimately proved to be the difference.

 “They are a good defensive team but we should have done a better job of finding our bigs,”  Brust said. “We just couldn’t find a good enough flow offensively.”

 Although UW was able to hold Thomas to just 17 points on 6-of-19 shooting , the Badgers couldn’t complete enough stops to get the win while the offense was sputtering. Ohio State scored 13 of its 50 points on 2nd chance opportunities, with Wisconsin managing just four points on five offensive rebounds.

 “We didn’t take care of some stuff on the defensive end, especially rebounding…” senior forward Mike Bruesewitz said. “They had 13 second chance points and that was the difference in the game because we only had two.”

The Buckeyes have been searching for a second scorer all year and on Sunday they found one in sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross. The Jackson, Miss. native stepped up to rescue a struggling OSU offense with seven points, all in the second half, and four rebounds in just 19 minutes of play. Ross hit Ohio State’s only three-point shot and converted a pivotal shot inside off a miss by Thomas that put the Buckeyes up four and gave senior forward Ryan Evans his fourth foul with just 4:31 left.

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“He was the major X factor, especially the last four or five minutes,” Bruesewitz said. “He definitely came to play and stepped up. He was the difference in the game.”

With the chance for a conference title now in the rear view mirror, Wisconsin must quickly shift focus to the NCAA Tournament and a second-round matchup Friday with 12th seeded Ole Miss, the SEC Tournament champions.

“They beat a team that crushed us earlier in the year,” Ryan said. “Ole Miss has shown they can do quite a few things.”

After a grueling weekend featuring three games in three days against top-10 competition, the Badgers are fortunate to have a Friday matchup and a solid four days to rest and prepare for a difficult draw.

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