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MADISON, Wis. – Ohio State's latest defeat was more than just disappointing to coach Thad Matta. It left him at a loss to explain what's wrong with his team.
No. 20 Wisconsin shot a season-best 53 percent Sunday in a 71-49 rout of the 13th-ranked Buckeyes. It was the third defeat in four games for Ohio State, with the lone win a lackluster performance against Northwestern.
"It didn't work in terms of getting this team not to win the game, but to compete at the level we need to compete at to give us a chance," Matta said about how he prepared his team.
It was a dramatic turnaround offensively for Wisconsin (18-8, 9-4 Big Ten) after Thursday, when the Badgers went scoreless over the final 5 minutes in regulation and then managed just four points in overtime while losing at Minnesota.
The 39 first-half points tied their best opening period in Big Ten play this season and were only 10 fewer than the Badgers scored for the entire game at Ohio State in a Jan. 29 loss.
Matta said it was just one of those games when the Badgers could do no wrong, perhaps best summed up in the second half when Wisconsin guard Traevon Jackson banked in an off-balance shot as the clock shot expired.
Even so, Matta said he had no explanation for how poorly Ohio State (18-7, 8-5) played on defense.
"We've seen the results if we're not going to play defensively. We're not a good basketball team," Matta said. "If we're going to rely on trying to outscore people, that's not going to happen."
The win kept Wisconsin tied with Michigan for third in the conference, two games behind leaders Indiana and Michigan State. Ohio State dropped into fifth place.
Wisconsin put Ohio State in a hole early and never let the Buckeyes climb out of it.
The Badgers took control with an 18-0 run in the first half that lasted more than 7 minutes and put them up 24-6. At one point in the run, Matta called timeout and said he lost it with his players, asking in bewilderment what was going on.
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, meanwhile, got to see what his team can do when it finally shoots well. The Badgers shot 10 percentage points better than their season average.
"The guys got good looks, and they went down," Ryan said. "They didn't change anything. I'd like to say we did, that we found something."
Everything was a struggle on the offensive end for Ohio State, though. DeShaun Thomas led the Buckeyes with 18 points, though he needed 17 shots to do it and only got to the foul line once. Sam Thompson added 10 points while Aaron Craft was held to four on 2-of-9 shooting — and the team shot less than 38 percent from the field. That included 3 of 12 from 3-point range.
Ohio State had only six assists and trailed by 17 points at halftime. That was its largest deficit at the break since March 22, 2007, when Ohio State trailed Tennessee by the same margin but went on to win 85-84.
"This is on us," Craft said. "Coaches can't get us ready to play. The responsibility is on us as individual players. We've got to go and bring teammates with us. We can't play like this in February. This is beginning-of-the-year mistakes and mental errors."
Wisconsin, by comparison, was a model of efficiency on offense. The Badgers had 16 assists on 29 field goals and were 7 of 19 from 3-point range.
Ben Brust and Jared Berggren each scored 15 points to lead the Badgers, while Brust also had 11 rebounds. Sam Dekker came off the bench to score 13 for Wisconsin, and Jackson added 10.
Wisconsin built its first 20-point lead at 34-14 on Dekker's 3-pointer with less than 4 minutes to go in the first half and led by as many as 26 in the second half.
Berggren said the Badgers didn't do anything differently against the Buckeyes. He chalked up the offensive effort to a landslide effect — when a couple of guys started making shots early, it just spread across the team. It also helped that the Badgers took advantage of Ohio State playing them tight on defense, making hard cuts to the rim and then kicking the ball out to open 3-point shooters.
"I think a big part is just knocking down shots," Berggren said. "I think we got a lot of the same looks, but everything seems better when the ball goes in."