March Madness: Will Michigan, North Carolina and Auburn all miss the NCAA tournament?
USA TODAY Sports’ Mackenzie Salmon breaks down 3 teams sitting on the bubble for the NCAA pre-selection tournament on Sunday.
CHICAGO – Wisconsin coach Greg Gard and his players walked off the floor at the United Center on Wednesday night, knowing their hopes for an NCAA Tournament berth were all but dashed.
Entering the Big Ten tournament as No. 12, the Badgers knew they probably needed to win two games to feel secure about a place in the 68-team field.
Instead, they defended poorly in an ugly first half, shot horribly most of the night trailing by 27 points, and suffered a 65–57 loss to No. 13 Ohio State, which had only five goals during the regular season. Big Ten games won.
Box score:Ohio State 65, Wisconsin 57
As a result, the UW players and coaches have to brace themselves for the chance of an NIT bid.
“It hurts because we knew what we were getting into,” senior forward Tyler Wahl said. “We knew the position we had put ourselves in and we had to come in here and win the game and we certainly didn’t start with the urgency that was needed.
“I loved the way we fought back, but at the end of the day we just have to be better.”
The Badgers (17-14) went one-and-out in the Big Ten Tournament for the second consecutive season. UW was seeded No. 2 last season, 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 on January 1 at Northwestern, improved to 14-18.
The Buckeyes will face fifth-seeded Iowa (19-12) at 1:30 PM on Thursday.
“Give Wisconsin credit,” said Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann. “Their physicality bothered us in the second half. Their defense was excellent in the second half.…
“But give (our) guys credit. They found a way and we move on to tomorrow.”
Wisconsin couldn’t match Ohio State’s aggressiveness in the first half
UW Wednesday’s loss seemed anything but official after the first 20 minutes.
Led by guards Bruce Thornton and Sean McNeil, Ohio State hit 4 of 7 3-pointers (57.1%) and 15 of 22 total shots (68.2%), building a 36–18 halftime lead .
“Obviously a disappointing start for us,” said Gard. “In the first half I thought they were much more aggressive than us. They were on our heels. They were very comfortable in what they were doing offensively. before the half we had dug a hole way too deep.…
“The difference was the aggressiveness they played with in the first half, which we couldn’t match.”
UW’s defense was not up to scratch and the offense was worse.
The Badgers came in with 35.5% shooting from three-point range, but missed all seven of their three-point attempts in the half. With both Steven Crowl and Wahl missing multiple shots in the lane, UW only hit 7 of 23 total shots (30.4%).
The Buckeyes converted six UW turnovers into nine points and trailed only once in the half, 2-0, when Connor Essegian scored in court after 41 seconds.
“I feel like those shots definitely didn’t (affect) us and it hurt our defense,” Wahl said. “They were super aggressive and when we weren’t solid in defense and (with) the shots didn’t go in, we just dug a huge hole for ourselves. It was hard to come back from that.”
Ohio State’s largest lead was 27 points, at 47–20. Led by Wahl, the Badgers charged back and 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 lift the lead to 57-41.
The Badgers had a strong run in the second half
UW made one last push and went on an 11-0 run fueled by a trio of three-pointers to pull in 57-52 with 2:14 left.
“We talked a bit at halftime,” Wahl said. “We knew what was at stake. We knew we had to come out with more energy and we had to make some stops.”
However, Max Klesmit missed an open three-pointer with 1:45 left, and McNeil skipped two free throws with 1:20 to increase the lead to 59-52. The Buckeyes held on by making 6 of 10 free throws in the final 1:02.
“We had a good kick going into this,” Sueing said. “We knew we had to come out with aggression and execute our game plan. We were able to pull out a comfortable lead.
“Obviously we need to work on keeping that up as we continue in the tournament, but a few months ago you couldn’t have said we would have been able to stay as good as we are now.”
Tyler Wahl and Steven Crowl were ineffective early on
Wahl and Crowl combined for 17 of 24 shots and contributed 42 points and 14 rebounds in UW’s regular season finale Sunday in Minnesota.
That duo could not influence the game on Wednesday in the same way.
Wahl hit 8 of 16 shots and scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half and had a team-leading 10 rebounds, but Crowl only hit 3 of 9 shots to finish with eight points.
“I thought he looked heavy-legged sometimes,” Gard said of Crowl. “I thought he couldn’t finish it.”
A Big Ten honorable mention, Hepburn hit just 1 of 6 3-pointers and 2 of 9 total shots, adding six points.
Named to the league freshman team, Essegian added 11 points and eight rebounds, but hit only 1 of 7 3-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, who finished 4 of 22 from three-point series (18.2%) and 21 of 61 overall (34.4%).
Thornton (13 points) and McNeil (10 points) combined on 3 of 4 3-pointers and 10 of 11 total shots in the first half to start Ohio State’s offense.
McNeil finished with 17 points. Sueing added 16 and Thornton finished with 15. That trio combined for 17 of 28 shots.
Ohio State freshman Brice Sensabaugh (16.5 ppg, 41.5% three-point shooter) added nine points and 11 rebounds.
What does the future hold for YOU?
“We wanted to come in here and try and win this thing,” Gard said when asked about UW’s NCAA resume. “That was the goal we were talking about. Then you will end up wherever you are.
“So I said to this group that hopefully we have more basketball to play. We’ll find out in due course.”
Would UW accept an offer for the NIT?
“I didn’t go down that road,” Gard added. “I was really focused on this and worried about preparing and helping these guys 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.