March Madness: Will Michigan, North Carolina and Auburn all miss the NCAA Tournament?
USA TODAY Sports’ Mackenzie Salmon breaks down 3 teams that sit on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament ahead of Sunday’s draft.
CHICAGO — Wisconsin coach Greg Gard and his players walked off the floor of the United Center Wednesday night, knowing their hopes of a berth in the NCAA Tournament were all but dashed.
The Badgers entered the Big Ten tournament ranked No. 12 and knowing they likely needed to win two games to feel secure in securing a spot in the 68-team field.
Instead, they defended poorly in an ugly first half, shot horribly for most of the night falling 27 points behind and suffered a 65-57 loss to the No. ‘Ohio State, which won just five Big Ten games during the regular season.
The score of the box:Ohio State 65, Wisconsin 57
As a result, UW players and coaches should prepare for the likelihood of hoping for an NIT offer.
“It hurts because we knew what we were getting into,” senior forward Tyler Wahl said. “We knew what position we had put ourselves in and we had to come here and win the game and we certainly didn’t start with the urgency we needed.
“I liked the way we fought, but at the end of the day we just have to be better.”
The Badgers (17-14) entered the Big Ten tournament for the second straight 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 win Jan. 1 at Northwestern, improved to 14-18.
The Buckeyes take on fifth-seeded Iowa (19-12) at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.
“Give Wisconsin credit,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “Their physique bothered us in the second half. Their defense was outstanding in the second half.…
“But give (our) guys credit. They found a way and we’ll move on to tomorrow.
Wisconsin didn’t match Ohio State’s aggressiveness in the first half
UW’s loss on Wednesday appeared almost official after the first 20 minutes.
Led by guards Bruce Thornton and Sean McNeil, Ohio State made 4 of 7 three-pointers (57.1%) and 15 of 22 total shots (68.2%) to create a 36-18 lead at halftime.
“Obviously for us disappointing start,” Gard said. “In the first half I thought they were a lot more aggressive than us. Get us on our heels. They were very comfortable in what they were doing offensively. By the time we rallied and had played with more physicality and more aggression in the second half we had dug a hole too deep.…
“The difference was the aggressiveness with which they played in the first half which we did not match.”
UW’s defense wasn’t up to snuff and the offense was worse.
The Badgers shot 35.5 percent from three-point range, but missed all seven of their three-point attempts in half. With Steven Crowl and Wahl missing several shots in the lane, UW only managed 7 of 23 total shots (30.4%).
The Buckeyes converted six UW turnovers in nine runs and trailed only once in the half, 2-0, when Connor Essegian scored down the hall 41 seconds later.
“I feel like these shots don’t (affect) us permanently and it affected our defense,” Wahl said. “They were super aggressive and when we weren’t solid in defense and (with) the shots not coming in, we just dug ourselves a huge hole. It was hard to come back after that.”
Ohio State’s biggest lead was 27 points, at 47-20. Led by Wahl, the Badgers stormed in and closed at 55-41 with 8:39 left.
However, they failed to score on their next six possessions and Judge Sueing hit a base jumper to push the lead to 57-41.
The Badgers had a strong run in the second half
UW made one final push and went on an 11-0 run, sparked by a trio of three-pointers, to shoot within 57-52 with 2:14 to go.
“We had a little chat at halftime,” Wahl said. “We knew what was at stake. We knew we had to come out with better energy and we had to make some saves.”
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. The Buckeyes held on, making 6 of 10 free throws in the final 1:02.
“We had a good kick to start this,” Sueing said. “We knew we had to be aggressive and execute our game plan. We were able to take a comfortable lead.
“Obviously we have to work to maintain that as we continue in the tournament, but a few months ago you couldn’t have said we could have stayed balanced like we are today.”
Tyler Wahl and Steven Crowl were ineffective at first
Wahl and Crowl combined to shoot 17 of 24 and contribute 42 points and 14 rebounds in Sunday’s UW regular season finale at Minnesota.
This duo couldn’t affect the match in the same way on Wednesday.
Wahl shot 8 of 16 and scored 17 of 19 points in the second half and had a team-best 10 rebounds, but Crowl only shot 3 of 9 and finished with eight points.
“I thought he looked heavy sometimes,” Gard said of Crowl. “I thought he couldn’t finish.”
Hepburn, an honorable mention all-Big Ten pick, made just 1 of 6 three-pointers and 2 of 9 total shots and added six points.
Essegian, named to the league’s freshman team, added 11 points and eight rebounds but made just 1 of 7 three-point attempts and 4 of 13 total shots.
“There were a lot of guys,” Essegian said, “everyone just seemed a little tense.”
Jordan Davis added seven points for UW, which finished 4 of 22 from three-point range (18.2%) and 21 of 61 overall (34.4%).
Thornton (13 points) and McNeil (10 points) combined to hit 3 of 4 three-pointers and 10 of 11 total shots in the first half to spark Ohio State’s onslaught.
McNeil finished with 17 points. Sueing added 16 and Thornton finished with 15. This combined line made 17 of 28 shots.
Ohio State rookie Brice Sensabaugh (16.5 ppg, 41.5 percent three-point shooting) added nine points and 11 rebounds.
What future for UW?
“We wanted to come here and try to win this thing,” Gard said when asked about UW’s NCAA resume. “That was the goal we were talking about. Then you end up wherever you are after that.
“So I told this group that we hope to have more basketball to play. We will find out in due time.”
Would UW accept an offer to the NIT?
“I didn’t go that route,” added Gard. “Really, I focused on that and was scared to set up and help these guys try to do some damage here.”
The damage was done Wednesday, largely self-inflicted by the Badgers who needed to win to improve their NCAA resume but instead went home early due to a brutal first-half performance.