For Wisconsin (0-1 Big Ten, 3-5 overall), the start of conference play was an opportunity to prove what coaches and players have been saying the last several weeks: that its brutal opening stretch would make it a better team in the long run. After facing four top-25 teams in the first seven games of the year, it was hoping to see the benefits of this adversity.
Saturday’s game against Ohio State showed that this team still has a ways to go, as the Badgers fell 83-58 in their biggest home loss since the Kohl Center opened in 1998. It was their biggest home loss since a 33-point loss to Purdue in 1996 at the Field House.
Wisconsin, who has finished in the top four of the Big Ten for the last 16 years, will have to improve significantly to keep that streak alive. The Buckeyes, who lost last year in Madison 89-66, seemed determined to return the favor. They absolutely torched the Wisconsin defense, shooting 78 percent from the field in the first half and never looking back. Greg Gard’s team had no answer, as its offensive woes carried over from the anemic performance against Virginia on Monday.
Kaleb Wesson scored 19 points for Ohio State, who improved to 6-3 and 1-0 in conference play. It had four players in double-digits, including Wesson, Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate and C.J. Jackson.
“It’s one of the most unique games I’ve been a part of,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “We were able to make plays and keep it at a distance.” He called Wisconsin’s early-season slate “as hard a schedule as I’ve seen.”
Brad Davison led the way with 16 points for Wisconsin, who fell to 3-5 on the season. Fellow freshmen Kobe King (10 points) and Nate Reuvers (10) all showed promise by scoring 36 of UW’s 58 points. Otherwise, the team as a whole turned in a historically poor effort.
No other player scored in double-digits, and star forward Ethan Happ struggled mightily with seven points and four turnovers. The Badgers made 12 fewer field goals than OSU despite shooting two more shots, were outrebounded 32-18 and turned the ball over 13 times.
“We obviously gave them way too much confidence early,” Gard said. “We didn’t have anything in the tank today, but that’s inexcusable.”
The game got off to an inauspicious start for the Badgers, who were outscored 49-26 in the first half. Wisconsin shot 15 percent from the field in the first eight minutes, finishing at 30 percent for the half. Meanwhile Ohio State played a nearly perfect first 20 minutes, making its first seven three-point shots and shooting 80 percent for the first 16 minutes. Wisconsin occasionally found sparks on offense, but the Buckeyes were consistently able to kill the momentum with hot shooting. For a Badgers team that continues to struggle finding a rhythm on offense, this was insurmountable.
“It seemed like we were lifeless for a large part of the first half,” Gard said.
The second half was not much better. Ohio State went on a 14-2 run to start the half, stretching its lead to 35 with 16 minutes to go in the game. It would stay within that margin for the rest of the game, but that will likely provide little solace.
The Badgers finished at 39 percent shooting, paling in comparison to Ohio State’s 66 percent. Some UW students left for the exits within the first five minutes of the second half and few fans were around for the final buzzer.
“The easiest thing to say is that we didn’t come with enough energy,” Happ said.
It was the earliest conference game in Wisconsin basketball history, a move to accommodate the Big Ten tournament starting in late February. Saturday’s game proved that there is a lot of work to be done if they want to be serious contenders for the title.
The Badgers have little time to regroup, as they now begin a two-game road swing starting with a Penn State team that is 5-0 at home on Monday. They will stay in the Quaker State, taking on Temple two days later before returning home to face in-state rival Marquette.