Courtesy of Abigail Money-Waldo / The Daily Cardinal, University of Wisconsin
Ohio State headed to Wisconsin with a “live in the moment” approach in one hand and hopes of prolonging its chances at a fourth straight Big Ten championship in the other.
But the moment, nearly every second of it, belonged to the No. 20-ranked Badgers in a 71-49 rout at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis., Sunday.
In the process, Wisconsin handed Thad Matta and the Buckeyes (18-7, 8-5 Big Ten) their worst loss since 2009 and likely eliminated them from the conference’s steeplechase for a league title.
Matta, who led OSU to the Final Four less than a year ago, said he had seen enough after calling a timeout down 22-6 with 10:27 to play in the first half.
“I, with composure, lost it,” Matta told reporters after the game.
Seemingly, so did the Buckeyes.
The loss, OSU’s third in four games, drops the Buckeyes to 1-7 against ranked opponents on the season and 3-5 in road games.
OSU junior forward Deshaun Thomas, who has not scored less than double figures all season, led the way with 18 points.
But in line with the theme of some of OSU’s losses this year, the Big Ten’s leading scorer had little help.
Aside from sophomore forward Sam Thompson’s 10 points, starting junior guards Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and sophomore center Amir Williams combined for just 10 total points.
The Buckeyes, though, came out of the gates firing, as Thomas, Smith Jr. and Craft all connected on each of their first shots within the first three minutes of the game.
With the score tied early, 6-6, OSU appeared composed in front of a sold-out crowd at the Kohl Center, a place it had only won once since 2000.
Any semblance of that notion, though, evaporated as quickly as the Buckeyes’ poise after junior guard Ben Brust’s 3-pointer gave the Badgers its first lead of the game at the 16:22 mark.
They never looked back.
Brust’s trey ignited an 18-0 run on 59 percent shooting from the floor and 56 percent from behind the arc that carried the Badgers into halftime with a 39-22 lead in tow.
The second half brought more of the same.
Wisconsin, which shot 53 percent on the day, still hit 13-of-28 shots and continued to stifle an OSU offense that seemed to only go as far as Thomas could take them.
What concerned Matta, though, was not the Buckeyes’ struggles on the offensive end.
His worry regarded their defense – the rock on which OSU has appeared to lean on now 25 games into the season.
“I don’t know who’s in your jerseys right now in terms of being where you’re supposed to be and doing what you’re supposed to do,” Matta said he told his squad. “We got to get back to that. … We’ve seen the results if we’re not going to play defense. We’re not a good basketball team.”
Sunday proved to be an immediate reminder of that.
“You know, if we’re going to rely on trying to outscore people, that’s not going to happen, we have to play defense,” Matta said.
OSU returns home to play Minnesota Wednesday night at the Schottenstein Center. Tip is at 7 p.m.