MADISON -- For the first time in Bo Ryan's 13-year tenure at Wisconsin, the Badgers have lost three consecutive home games.
This particular defeat, a 59-58 demoralizer against the similarly free-falling No. 24 Ohio State Buckeyes (17-5 overall, 4-5 Big Ten), came after the No. 14 Badgers (17-5, 4-5) had built a seven-point lead with 7:35 to play but made just one field goal and four of 10 free throws down the stretch.
After Ohio State's Lenzelle Smith, Jr., missed a layup and traveled with the ball while attempting to secure a rebound with his team leading by one, the Badgers had 8.4 seconds to go the length of the court and get a basket. Traevon Jackson tried to penetrate to his right on OSU point guard Aaron Craft, got stuck and kicked to sophomore forward Sam Dekker, who narrowly missed a three-point attempt at the buzzer.
"[Jackson] lost the ball on his dribble," head coach Bo Ryan said. "The idea was he was going to take it, and if they helped off on him he could kick it, but he loses his dribble so we really can't make a good, solid play. It was just mis-handled."
Craft, known as one of the best man-to-man defenders in the country, certainly had something to do with it, and Ohio State coach Thad Matta credited LaQuinton Ross with helping on Jackson and then recovering and making the shot from Dekker difficult, but the Buckeyes also had a pretty good idea of what was coming.
"We told our guys, ‘[Jackson]'s probably going to take the shot,'" Matta said. "One thing we know about Traevon, he's a heck of a basketball player and he likes big shots."
Smith's miscue gave the Badgers an opening, but for a few moments in the second half, it looked like it would be UW who shut the door on Ohio State.
The Buckeyes trailed by four at halftime, but used a 9-0 run early in the second half to help build a 42-39 lead at the 15:15 mark. Then Wisconsin freshman forward Nigel Hayes took over. He scored eight of his game-high 17 points during a 13-3 run that spanned 6:44.
"I saw some guys hustling out there, I saw some guys banging on the glass, I saw Nigel just working," Ryan said of the Toledo, Ohio, native, who had 13 of his 17 points in the second half. "He's outworked everybody on the team, which is pretty obvious, and he does it without talking about it."
He might have carried UW to a win against the perennially powerful foe from his home state, too, if not for a tough half from the free throw line. Hayes made just thee of eight attempts in the second half, and the Badgers as a whole converted on just 6-of-14 after making 13-of-15 in the first half.
"That's a big problem," Hayes said of his own numbers. "I really have to start converting from the free throw line. Getting there is not the problem, I just have to start making my shots."
Hayes drew a foul and made one of two free throws to give the Badgers a 52-45 to cap UW's second-half run. Inexplicably, Wisconsin could not consistently find him in the post for the rest of the afternoon.
The offense stagnated for long chunks of the shot clock and the half-court sets lacked ball movement. Ohio State chipped away. Craft, held scoreless for the first 36:03, followed a missed three by Jackson with a triple of his own, which got the Buckeyes within one. He finished with seven points and, in addition to the defensive contribution on the last possession, also helped hold UW senior guard Ben Brust (13 points, 4-of-9 FG, 2-of-6 3-pt.) to one second-half point.
Wisconsin finished at 42.9 percent (21-of-49) from the floor but 17.6 (3-of-17) percent from three-point range.
"I have a hard time figuring out how in the last two games we haven't knocked down some more perimeter shots," Ryan said. "That I don't understand."
UW has shot just 24.7 percent (20-of-81) from three-point range over its last four games.
Both teams had to deal with foul trouble in the first half. Dekker (4 points, 2-of-6 FG), who was active early off the ball and got dunks on a back-door cut and an offensive put-back, picked up his second at 12:03 in the first half. Craft committed his second at 7:33. Dekker's 19 minutes were a season low. The Sheboygan, Wis. native entered averaging 30.9 minutes per game. He played 12 of 20 second half minutes.
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