The good news is Wisconsin didn't miss a single free throw all night. The bad news is UW didn't make any free throws, either.
The Badgers (14-7, 5-3 Big Ten) were held under 50 points for the third straight game in no small part due to their willingness to settle for 3-pointers, which resulted in zero free throw attempts by the visitors in a 58-49 loss at No. 11 Ohio State (16-4, 6-2).
Wisconsin connected on 11-of-28 (39.3 percent) 3-point shots, yet it was not enough to compensate for shooting just 8-of-24 (33 percent) inside the arc. Meanwhile, the Deshaun Thomas-led Buckeyes outscored the Badgers, 34-14, in the paint and hit 9-of-12 at the free throw line.
When forward Sam Dekker scored on an offensive rebound putback with 12:55 remaining to push UW's lead to 41-37, it proved to be the only Badgesr bucket over the next seven minutes. During that critical span, Ohio State pieced together a crucial 15-0 spurt to seize control of the game for good.
Thomas scored 10 of his game-high 25 points during the run. He shot 10-for-17 overall and also added four assists to his offensively-challenged teammates.
"Thomas is the best player we’ve played against and we took away his three-point shot," Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said. "But he can attack so well and is so strong. His mid-range game is what hurt us most tonight."
Combined with a scoreless final three minutes, Wisconsin made only three baskets over the final 12:54 of game clock. Sophomore Traevon Jackson led the team with 12 points.
Both sides struggled to score early on. With Wisconsin leading, 3-2, after seven minutes of play, the Badgers' defense was in command. Even though Thomas scored Ohio State's first eight points, the defense of Ryan Evans held the junior forward relatively in check. Jared Berggren was also a monster in the first half with eight points and six rebounds.
Late in the first half, Wisconsin was threatening to break the game wide open after stretching its lead to 24-17 on a Ben Brust-assisted dunk by Berggren. However, over the final minute-and-a-half, Wisconsin's fortunes took a dubious turn that caused its lead to vanish.
The Badgers had effectively made Thomas invisible since his first eight points, but he managed to free himself on a screen and fired a 3-pointer, leaning as he landed on one foot. Caught way out of position on the play, Evans jumped to the side of Thomas and was called for a foul. Replays showed Evans did not touch Thomas at all.
Thomas hit all three free throws, sparking the crowd inside Value City Arena.
Next up was Aaron Craft, who shrewdly slammed into Berggren on a drive for a layup. Though he couldn't complete the traditional three-point play, he made two free throws a moment later after being fouled by George Marshall. Suddenly, Wisconsin found itself clinging to a 26-24 lead at the half despite holding Ohio State to 39 percent shooting.
Evans' offensive struggles continued against the Buckeyes, typifying Wisconsin's night. The redshirt senior went 1-for-10 overall, consisting largely of several shots that had no chance of going in. Evans and Jackson also struggled handling the ball, turning the ball over three times apiece against a solid Ohio State defense that gave Wisconsin a taste of its own medicine.
However, Ohio State's attention to Berggren inside helped Wisconsin hit a number of open looks from 3-point land, which kept the Badgers afloat all night despite never going to the free throw line. Five different Badgers hit 3-pointers on the night, including 3-of-6 shooting by Brust (9 points) and 3-of-5 shooting from deep by Berggren (11 points). Brust also added three assists.
Unfortunately, the outside shooting may have caused the Badgers to become complacent. A perfect example came around the seven-minute mark, when Jackson missed Mike Bruesewitz on a perfect pick-and-roll opportunity, instead passing to Brust in the corner for a missed three.
Meanwhile, Thomas took advantage any time Evans switched off of him. The Big Ten's leading scorer was seemingly able to put the ball in the hoop whenever he put his mind to it.
Shooting percentages rose after halftime, as Wisconsin and Ohio State traded baskets much of the way before the crippling UW drought. Moving Berggren away from the hoop opened up a few plays at the rim as the Buckeyes tried desperately to get anyone other than Thomas or Craft involved in the offense.
"They were so pack oriented," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said of Wisconsin. "Their positioning on defense is really good. It was tough to shoot threes tonight, but we were able to find seams and overall, Aaron Craft was really good."
Craft got loose for 13 points and snagged seven rebounds. No other Buckeye scored more than eight points, but several were involved in the sudden Ohio State turnaround.
Good hands by Buckeye defenders helped Ohio State convert 11 points on five second-half Badger turnovers. Following a Berggren block of Shannon Scott's layup that temporarily stemmed the tide of an 8-0 Buckeye run, LaQuinton Ross stole an Evans pass and finished with a huge 3-pointer with just under eight minutes left to put OSU up 49-41. A half-hearted pass by Bruesewitz on the ensuing play was stolen by Scott, who dished to Thomas for a streaking lay-in to put Wisconsin in a quick nine-point hole.
Such a hole proved too deep for a slumping Badger offense to overcome.
Even so, 3-pointers by Brust and Berggren snapped UW's scoring drought of 7:04 to pull Wisconsin within 52-47. But Wisconsin never got anything going toward the hoop, and certainly not enough easy points to pull out a road victory.
Wisconsin has now made a total of 11 free throws in the past three games against Ohio State, Minnesota and Michigan State.
The Badgers travel to Champaign, Ill., on Sunday with a chance to bounce back with a sweep of the Fighting Illini for the second straight season.
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