MADISON, Wis.— With his fist against his forehead, guard Ben Brust walked off the floor. His sullen look said it all.
No. 14 Wisconsin is free-falling down the Big Ten standings, and not even a game in Kohl Center can help.
Freshman Nigel Hayes had 17 points off the bench, but the Badgers missed a 3 at the buzzer and wasted opportunities at the line in a 59-58 loss to No. 24 Ohio State.
The Badgers had their fifth loss in six games after a school-record 16-0 start. They’ve lost three straight games at home for the first time since 1997-98.
“We’ve got to change something,” said Brust (13 points, seven rebounds). “We can’t sulk. We’ve got to move on.”
Aaron Craft scored all seven of his points in the final 4 minutes and LaQuinton Ross added 13 for Ohio State (17-5, 4-5) in the bruising back-and-forth affair with the Badgers (17-5, 4-5).
The Buckeyes nearly let it slip away. They were already steamed after an overtime loss in Columbus earlier in the week to Penn State.
Lenzelle Smith Jr., got the ball in transition after Traevon Jackson missed a foul shot, but was accidentally bumped to the floor by teammate Amir Williams after getting his own offensive rebound. Turnover Ohio State.
“You wouldn’t expect anything less with what we’ve gone through this year, right? That’s kind of how our year has gone,” Craft said.
The Badgers (17-5, 4-5) tried to set up for Jackson, who’s had his moments hitting game-winning shots. Ohio State was prepared, and Wisconsin settled for a decent second option in Sam Dekker before he missed the 3.
The Badgers had plenty of other chances to win but went just 5 of 10 from the foul line late, and went without a field goal in the final 6-plus minutes.
“In this league against good teams you have to play the full 40 minutes. Every possession.” said guard Josh Gasser (seven points, six rebounds). “Sometimes you just have to make a play or two ... They just made one more than we did.”
Craft didn’t hit his first basket until 3:57 left, but it was 3 that helped his team finish on an 11-4 run.
Another tight loss averted. Like Wisconsin, Ohio State was struggling coming into today after losing five of six following a 15-0 start.
Coach Thad Matta was looking for more physical toughness from his team after an overtime loss at home earlier in the week to Penn State.
“I thought we had better composure. I thought we had a better pace about us,” Matta said.
The Buckeyes didn’t take the lead for good until Williams went 1 of 2 from the line with 54 seconds left for a 58-57 lead.
Both teams struggled with foul shooting, though it hurt Wisconsin more in the end.
The loss wasted an electrifying performance by Hayes in the second half, who turned into his team’s best scoring option in the frontcourt. He finished 6 of 7 from the field but still has to work on foul shooting after going 5 of 11 from the line.
The offense is struggling for key stretches after playing so well earlier this season. Dekker finished with four points on 2-of 6-shooting. Frank Kaminsky had eight points and went 1 of 6 from the field but 6 of 6 from the line.
“You control what you can control. And, obviously, we didn’t do that from the offensive end,” coach Bo Ryan said. “You’re not going to re-invent the game of basketball, but guys have to be able to step up and hit shots.”
Things looked good early for the Badgers, who attacked the basket even with leading scorer Dekker in foul trouble in the first half.
The last play epitomized Wisconsin’s successful formula. Jackson missed a layup, but Kaminsky swooped in for a one-handed offensive rebound and in the same motion tipped the ball to Brust. The guard converted for quick basket and a 33-29 Wisconsin lead at the break.