In the first game of the 2023 Big Ten tournament, the Wisconsin men’s basketball team (17-14, 8-12 Big Ten) took on Ohio State (14-18, 5-15) in Chicago. The Buckeyes torched the Badgers early and carried an 18-point lead into half, but Wisconsin nearly completed a massive comeback courtesy of a 19-2 run.
The Badgers’ sole senior, Tyler Wahl, led the comeback with 19 points, but late offensive struggles saw the Badgers’ push falter. Ohio State swept away any thoughts of a comeback and secured the 65-57 win.
Coach Greg Gard’s reliable starting five — Chucky Hepburn, Connor Essegian, Max Klesmit, Steven Crowl and Wahl — took the floor in Chicago, looking to win their second game in a row for the first time since mid-January.
Crowl, coming off a monster performance just three days before against Minnesota, got some early touches and found a cutting Essegian inside for the opening bucket of the game. Crowl added an early two of his own with a strong score inside, just like he did against the Golden Gophers.
Ohio State, led by Big Ten All-Freshman honoree Brice Sensabaugh, opened their scoring early with efficient shooting. The Buckeyes’ Justice Sueing shot out to a personal 5-0 run, helping OSU build their early lead.
Crowl found his way inside for another efficient paint shot to stifle Ohio State’s hot start, but the Buckeyes scored on two Wisconsin turnovers to extend their lead to eight. Klesmit drew a foul — the fourth already on Ohio State in the opening minutes — but only hit one free throw.
Lacking early offensive success, Gard reached to his bench for a boost. Carter Gilmore — a reliable defender and smart facilitator — checked in and made two free throws. Kamari McGee replaced Hepburn and immediately forced a turnover. However, the Badgers continued to miss layups and high percentage shots, allowing Ohio State to increase their lead.
Essegian broke Wisconsin’s drought with a floater, but the Badgers still found themselves in a 10-point hole, 22-12, after 12 minutes. Ohio State’s Sean McNeil answered with a step-back 3-pointer, and Bruce Thornton scored off of a steal to inflate the lead to 15 points.
In the closing minutes of the half, Crowl and Wahl both scored in the paint, but Ohio State’s relentless shooting — 67% from the field in the first half — kept the Badgers out of reach. Wisconsin missed a number of open shots shortly thereafter, and Ohio State took a dominant 36-18 lead into half — the Badgers’ largest half-time deficit of the season.
In the opening minutes of the second half, the lid stayed on the rim. Crowl missed yet another layup and Klesmit missed a close jumper. Ohio State scored on the other end to extend the lead to 22 points — the largest deficit Wisconsin has faced all season.
Wahl put back an offensive rebound to break the 20 point mark and added another layup before Hepburn forced a turnover that translated into a jumper for Jordan Davis. Wisconsin’s three-quarter court press proved faulty, though, as Ohio State’s Sueing broke the press for an and-1 play.
Davis drilled the Badgers’ first 3-pointer of the night after 10 previous misses, and Essegian converted two free throws afterwards in an attempt to claw back into the game. He followed up with a crafty up-and-under layup to top off an 11-3 run, but Ohio State still held a 19 point lead.
After gaining minimal momentum and forcing Ohio State to call a timeout, the Badgers settled right back into an offensive drought littered with poor shot selections. However, Wahl worked his way into the post and finished a three point play to spark another spurt of momentum for Wisconsin.
Wahl continued forward with his newfound energy, ripping off a personal 8-0 run and recording a steal. Supported by the bench play of McGee, Gilmore and Davis, Wisconsin closed the gap to 14 with five minutes left.
Despite Wahl’s best effort — including 17 points in the second half — time quickly ticked away on Wisconsin’s Big Ten tournament life. However, 3-pointers from Essegian, Wahl and Hepburn pulled Wisconsin within five points with under three minutes to play.
The sudden 11-0 Wisconsin run late in the game shook Ohio State out of their offensive dominance, and Davis forced a turnover that allowed Klesmit to convert a free throw. The Badgers missed a number of looks late in the game, failing to get within one possession of Ohio State as the Buckeyes narrowly held off the Badgers’ late comeback for a 65-57 win.
A stressful week ahead
Badger fans across the country will be praying to the basketball gods on Sunday as the NCAA tournament selection show reveals the full 68-team field. Wisconsin will hope to record their 23rd appearance in the tournament in 24 years, likely as a play-in team.
Across the nation, other teams on the bubble, including Penn State, Oklahoma State, Arizona State, Mississippi State and other power-five candidates, will be competing in their own conference tournaments in an attempt to lock in a “first four in” spot and knock the Badgers into the offseason.