Courtesy of Ben Pierson / The Daily Cardinal
The Ohio State men’s basketball team was undefeated — it had gotten 24 wins in as many games — and with a 15-point second-half lead at Wisconsin, the Buckeyes’ unblemished record seemed safe. Barring a furious comeback, coach Thad Matta’s Buckeyes were prepared to move to 25-0, furthering what stands as the second-best start in school history.
A furious comeback, however, was exactly what the Badgers had in store.
Junior guard Jordan Taylor’s 21 second-half points fueled a 15-0 run that erased OSU’s lead, and, along with hot shooting from several other Badgers, Wisconsin beat the Buckeyes, 71-67, on Saturday. The loss, which was OSU’s sixth in as many tries at Wisconsin’s Kohl Center under Matta, ended the Buckeyes’ reign as the nation’s only unbeaten team.
“You come on the road; you shoot 54 percent; you shoot 88 percent from the free-throw line; you outrebound your opponents; you only have seven turnovers; and you feel pretty good,” Matta said following the loss. “They had to play, for that stretch, damn near perfect to get us — and they did.”
It was the first time since March 26 that Matta and the Buckeyes left the court on the losing end. That loss, a 76-73 loss to Tennessee in last year’s NCAA Tournament, ended any chance OSU had at what could have been its first championship in more than 50 years.
Ten months, 23 opponents and 25 games later, the Buckeyes lost again. But unlike after the last one, OSU gets to keep playing.
“It’s a bad, bitter taste in your mouth, especially when we had a lead like that and thinking that we had the game in our hands,” fifth-year senior forward David Lighty said Saturday. “But I mean, it’s just on to the next one.”
That mentality, Matta said, is one that both he and his players have embraced all season long. One in which neither Matta nor his players think about anything but the game at hand, and one that doesn’t allow for sulking, despite the loss of a perfect season.
The Buckeyes’ 11-1 record in Big Ten play still has them atop the standings, two games ahead of Wisconsin and Purdue. Beginning Tuesday at home against Michigan State, OSU has just six games standing in the way of what would be its second consecutive regular-season conference title.
That title, as well as both the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament, is what the Buckeyes have been eyeing all along.
“When we get back, we start preparing for Michigan State and away we go,” Matta said. “The goal of this basketball team, as we set out, was not go undefeated. I think we’ll see our character and how we recover when we come into practice (Sunday).”
Though the next several weeks will tell for sure, Matta said he suspects his no-longer-unbeaten Buckeyes will be just fine.
“We never talked about being 24-0; we just tried to talk about playing better basketball,” Matta said. “I told our guys we have to pick ourselves up and get ready to go. I think they’ll do that. I really do.”