CHICAGO – Wisconsin coach Greg Gard and his players walked off the floor at the United Center Wednesday night knowing their hopes of securing an NCAA Tournament berth were all but gone.
The Badgers entered the Big Ten tournament seeded No.12 and knowing they likely had to win two games to feel secure about getting a berth in the 68-team field.
Instead, they shot horribly in a 65-57 loss to No. 13 Ohio State, which won just five Big Ten games during the regular season, and had to brace for the possibility of playing in the NIT.
The Badgers (17-14) went one-and-out in the Big Ten tournament for the second consecutive season. UW last season was seeded No. 2 but suffered a 69-63 quarterfinal loss to No. 7 Michigan State.
Ohio State which was 2-0 in the Big Ten and 10-3 overall after a 16-point victory on Jan. 1 at Northwestern, improved to 14-18.
The Buckeyes face fifth-seeded Iowa (19-12) at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.
Box score:Ohio State 65, Wisconsin 57
Badgers couldn’t keep up in the first half
UW’s loss Wednesday appeared all but official after the first 20 minutes.
Led by guards Bruce Thornton and Sean McNeil, Ohio State hit 4 of 7 three-pointers (57.1%) and 15 of 22 shots overall (68.2%) in building a 36-18 halftime lead.
UW’s defense wasn’t up to par and the offense was worse.
The Badgers came in shooting 35.5% from three-point range but missed all seven of their three-point attempts in the half. With both Steven Crowl and Tyler Wahl missing multiple shots in the lane, UW hit just 7 of 23 shots overall (30.4%).
The Buckeyes converted six UW turnovers into nine points and trailed just once in the half, 2-0, when Connor Essegian scored in the lane 41 seconds in.
Ohio State’s biggest lead was 27 points, at 47-20. Led by Wahl, the Badgers closed to within 55-41 with 8:39 left.
However, they failed to score on their next six possessions and Justice Sueing hit a baseline jumper to push the lead to 57-41.
Wisconsin had a strong run in the second half
UW made one last push and went on a 11-0 run, sparked by a trio of three-pointers, to pull within 57-52 with 2:14 left.
Max Klesmit missed an open three-pointer with 1:45 left, however, and McNeil hit two free throws with 1:20 left to push the lead to 59-52.
Chucky Hepburn missed a three-pointer and Isaac Likekele was fouled and hit 1 of 2 free throws with 1:09 left.
Crowl was fouled on the rebound of the second free throw and hit both shots to pull UW within 60-54.
Jordan Davis forced a turnover with 1:06 left and Klesmit was fouled with 1:03 left. The first shot was down and trickled out but the second was pure.
UW was again within five.
Sueing was fouled on the in-bound and hit 1 of 2 free throws for a 61-55 lead. Hepburn scored on a drive with 52.6 seconds left and the lead was down to four.
Sueing went back to the line with 49.4 seconds left and hit 1 of 2 shots. UW trailed, 62-57.
Wahl missed a contested drive with 28 seconds left and the Buckeyes snagged the rebound. Felix Okpara hit 1 of 2 free throws with 27.9 seconds left, Wahl missed a three-point attempt and the comeback was finally put down.
Tyler Wahl and Steven Crowl were ineffective inside
Wahl and Crowl combined to hit 17of 24 shots and contribute 42 points and 14 rebounds in UW’s regular-season finale Sunday at Minnesota.
That duo couldn’t affect the game Wednesday.
Wahl hit 8 of 16 shots and scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half but Crowl hit just 3 of 9 shots and finished with eight points.
Hepburn, an honorable-mention all-Big Ten pick, hit just 1 of 6 three-pointers and 2 of 9 shots overall and added six points.
Connor Essegian, named to the league’s all-freshman team, added 11 points but hit just 1 of 7 three-point attempts and 4 of 13 shots overall.
Davis added seven points for UW, which finished 4 of 22 from three-point range and 21 of 61 overall.
Thornton (13 points) and McNeil (10 points) combined to hit 3 of 4 three-pointers and 10 of 11 shots overall in the opening half to spark Ohio State’s onslaught.
McNeil finished with 17 points. Justice Sueing added 16 and Thornton finished with 15. That trio combined to hit 17 of 28 shots.
Ohio State freshman Brice Sensabaugh (16.5 ppg, 41.5% three-point shooter) added nine points and 11 rebounds.
Badgers fail to make three-pointers early
The Badgers entered the game shooting 35.5% from three-point range but missed their first 4 three-point attempt and started 3 of 10 overall.
That allowed the Buckeyes, who hit 7 of 12 shots, to open a 16-7 lead with 11:34 left in the first half.
Ohio State didn’t cool off at all and eventually built the lead to 32-16 on a three-pointer by Thornton with 4:46 left in the half.
The Buckeyes to that point had hit 4 of 6 three-pointers (66.7%) and 14 of 19 shots overall (73.7%).
UW, shooting 0-for-4 from three-point range and 7 of 18 overall (38.9%) and saddled with five turnovers, couldn’t keep pace.
The Buckeyes hit 10 of their final 12 shots in the half, finished at 68.2% (15 of 22) and held a 36-18 lead.
UW’s numbers were brutal: 0 of 7 from beyond the arc, 7 of 23 shots overall (30.4%) and six turnovers that led to 10 points for the Buckeyes.
The first few minutes of the second half showed UW had little to no chance of mounting a comeback.
Crowl missed a hook in the lane and Okpara tipped in a miss on the other end. Klesmit missed a jumper in the lane and Sueing hit a fadeaway baseline jumper for a 40-18 lead with 18:32 left in the game.
Wahl’s basket inside pushed UW to the 20-point mark with 17:30 left.
The Badgers didn’t hit double-digit field goals until Davis hit a jumper with 14:52 left. That cut Ohio State’s lead to 47-24.
They missed their first 10 three-point attempts until Davis hit from the left wing with 14:17 left.
Sueing converted a three-point play to push Ohio State’s lead to 50-24 but the Badgers got five points from Jordan Davis in a 9-0 run. That cut the deficit to 50-33 and forced the Buckeyes to call a timeout with 11:49 left.
McNeil crushed the Badgers’ rally.
First he hit a three-pointer from the corner for a 53-33 lead and then, after a miss by Wahl, scored in transition for 55-33 lead.
Wahl helped UW charge back and pull within 14 by scoring eight consecutive points, in a span of 2:04. Ohio State’s lead was down to 55-41 with 8:39 left.
Could UW stage a miracle comeback?
The Badgers did charge back, pulling within four points before eventually running out of time.
Their NCAA hopes? On life support.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin shoots poorly, falls to Ohio State in Big Ten tournament