The 15th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers (22-6, 11-4 Big Ten) picked a poor time to let up defensively, falling to the Ohio State Buckeyes 83-73 in Big Ten action on Thursday night in Columbus, Ohio.
The loss cost the Badgers a spot at the top of the conference standings, where Purdue (23-5, 12-3) now enjoys a full one game lead on the Badgers with three games remaining. The Boilermakers also own a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Badgers.
Purdue plays Saturday at Michigan, while Wisconsin is at Michigan State on Sunday.
The Buckeyes (16-13, 6-10) lost to the Badgers by 23 points (89-66) earlier this season. They turned the tables on Wisconsin last night, hitting 10 of 16 three pointers (62.5%) and out-rebounding the Badgers 38-25.
The Badgers gave up 44 points in the first half and trailed by as many as 20 points in the second half before closing the gap down the stretch.
Bronson Koenig poured in 27 points, hitting 5 of 9 three-pointers and 9 of 15 shots overall to lead the Badgers. D’Mitrik Trice had 14 points after getting hot late.
But Nigel Hayes took just six shots and finished with seven points. Ethan Happ took just five shots and scored only four points.
The Buckeyes closed took a 13-point lead into the locker room at halftime.
Wisconsin allowed a team that had no life coming into the game, feel like they had life early in the game. The Badgers were out-played, out-hustled, out-rebounded.
The Buckeyes used the same defensive scheme that has worked against the Badgers for much of the second half of the season. They went with hard double teams in the post, against Happ and Hayes and the Badgers have had only moderate success in cracking the code.
Too many times, Wisconsin has relied on planting themselves behind the three point line and firing from long distance when the ball comes from the post. Last night, the Badgers took more than half of their shots (30 of 57) from distance.
The Badgers didn’t look last night, like a team that was playing for a Big Ten regular season title. The result puts Wisconsin in a difficult position with just three games left to play.
Last week, they looked like they were headed for a 5-seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. After last night, they may have dropped to a 6-seed. It may have cost them a legitimate chance of landing a spot in Milwaukee for the opening two rounds of the NCAA tournament.
With three games left, plus the Big Ten Tournament, it’s important that the Badgers stop the bleeding and figure out a way to play consistently on both ends of the floor. If not, their stay in the tournament could be a short one.