COLUMBUS, Ohio – After losing for the third time in five games, No. 8 Ohio State is facing some difficult questions.
The answers may be staring back at them when they shave each morning.
"Guys have got to look at themselves in the mirror and come back and be ready to go," coach Thad Matta said Sunday after a painful 63-60 loss to No. 16 Wisconsin.
The Buckeyes (23-6, 11-5 Big Ten) led by eight points with less than 8 minutes to play, but Jared Berggren hit a wide-open 3-pointer with 31 seconds remaining to give the Badgers (21-8, 10-6) the lead for good.
Ohio State had no answer.
"We can let this affect us maybe through today and when we wake up tomorrow we have to be refocused and ready to come back in and find a way to get better," point guard Aaron Craft said. "I have confidence that we'll do that."
Seemingly everything was lined up for the Buckeyes, who were in first place by themselves as recently as 15 days earlier.
William Buford had played well in leading them on a 9-0 run that gave them a 50-42 lead as the 8-minute mark came and went. But then things fell apart.
"You always measure people by what it takes to discourage them," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "If you get discouraged and you get frustrated it certainly doesn't help in the game of basketball. Our guys stayed to the task."
The Badgers roared back to take the lead with an 11-4 run before Craft, who had 13 points, scored on a drive with just over 2 minutes left. Wisconsin countered with two free throws by Jordan Taylor, with Ohio State coming right back on a spin move and short shot by Jared Sullinger.
Berggren then popped outside and swished a shot from the left wing that was a punch to the gut for Ohio State and deflated a crowd of 18,809 at Value City Arena.
Still, the Buckeyes had a chance, down by two points.
After a timeout, Deshaun Thomas, who led Ohio State with 23 points, ended up with the ball at the top of the key. He went up for the shot but Ryan Evans rushed him and closed fast, throwing off his shot. It hit off the back of the iron, with Berggren grabbing the rebound.
"I didn't like that shot, obviously," Matta said. "Deshaun's man was sitting underneath the basket and Aaron came off and set a great screen. (Deshaun) should probably not take that shot. He knew it when he shot it."
Berggren was fouled and hit both shots with 14.2 seconds left for a 63-59 lead.
Craft hit a late free throw to close the scoring.
Buford finished with 15 points. The only senior on Ohio State's roster, he was honored before his final home game.
"It was cool, but our main goal was to win the game," he said. "But we didn't. That kind of messed up my day a little bit."
Sullinger, averaging 17.2 points a game, piled up 24 points and 10 rebounds in Ohio State's 58-52 win at Wisconsin on Feb. 4. This time, he was held to eight points and six rebounds.
"In today's game, (it was) just our inability to sustain what needed to be sustained," Matta said. "Be it offensive execution or defensive stops, we weren't able to get those things done."
Matta had an inkling that his team might struggle against Wisconsin.
"I had to throw them out of practice yesterday," he said. "They weren't ready to practice. And this team has shown we play like we practice."
The Buckeyes need to regroup for games at Northwestern and Michigan State this week. After that come the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
"We have to learn from it," Craft said of Sunday's defeat. "We have to find a way to move on and refocus and keep our heads up. We still have two games left and they're big games."
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