Multiple areas of deficiency have shown up during the first three weeks of the season for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team, and each of them could be explained away by a young group going through a steep learning curve.
But the one thing that Greg Gard could count on from the Badgers during a stretch that included four losses to ranked opponents was effort. UW had obvious flaws on both ends of the court, but at least it tried hard and was passionate in its pursuit of improvement.
That wasn’t the case Saturday evening at the Kohl Center, where the Badgers opened Big Ten Conference play with an 83-58 loss to Ohio State.
Freshman center Kaleb Wesson scored a game-high 19 points for the Buckeyes (6-3, 1-0 Big Ten), who shot 66 percent from the field to produce the largest margin of victory by a visiting team at the Kohl Center. The previous high was a 61-44 win for eventual national champion Michigan State in 2000.
It was UW’s most lopsided home defeat since a 75-42 loss to Purdue at the UW Field House on Feb.7, 1996.
After his team trailed by double figures for the final 28 minutes, 52 seconds of the game, Gard called the performance “very disappointing” and used the word “lifeless” to describe the Badgers’ play while allowing the Buckeyes to build a 23-point cushion by halftime.
“I think the easiest thing to say is that we didn’t come with enough energy,” UW junior center Ethan Happ said. “I’d say that we just need to be more prepared to play.”
UW was coming off a 49-37 loss at No. 18 Virginia in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Monday. The Badgers returned home and had two days off, which should have given them time to recharge after a difficult stretch that included two road trips and seven games in 18 days.
If anything, the start of conference play should have given UW an extra bounce in its step. Instead, Gard’s team was sluggish from the opening tip.
“I thought our legs looked like we were a step slow. Why? I’m not going to try to come up with excuses,” Gard said. “We made some mistakes early that gave them some confidence and when a team like them gets confidence going and starts making shots, that can take the life out of you quickly.
“Every game, we’ve competed extremely hard, I’ve been pleased with the effort. Maybe that was a sign, maybe we’ve had so many of these in a row that we didn’t have anything in that tank today. But that’s inexcusable in terms of what we needed.”
UW’s top three scorers against the Buckeyes were true freshmen: Brad Davison led the way with 16 points, while Kobe King and Nate Reuvers each posted career highs with 10 points apiece.
Happ, meanwhile, was held to single digits for the first time this season. He finished with seven points and had twice as many turnovers (four) as made field goals (two).
But offense wasn’t the biggest issue for the Badgers (3-5, 0-1). They were downright atrocious on the other end of the court for the first 30 minutes of the game.
Ohio State made its first seven attempts from 3-point range and shot 78.3 percent from the field overall in the first half. Getting lit up like that should have been a wake-up call for the Badgers, but they allowed the Buckeyes to make seven of their first 10 shots to start the second half.
Between the bulk of Wesson and Jae’Sean Tate (16 points) and the length of Keita Bates-Diop (17 points, 11 rebounds), UW had some difficult matchups to contend with.
But it’s not as though Ohio State has been an offensive juggernaut during the season’s early stages. It entered the game ranked 101st nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and was coming off a 14-point home loss to Clemson.
“This was kind of as well as we can play for stretches,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said, “and we probably caught Wisconsin on a difficult day.”
It was Ohio State’s best shooting performance in Big Ten play since going 68.1 percent from the field during a 93-65 victory over the Badgers on March 6, 2011.
The Buckeyes threatened to add another historical footnote to this game. UW’s largest margin of defeat ever in a home game came in a 106-69 loss to an Ohio State team that included Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek and went on to win a national title.
Ohio State’s lead Saturday grew as high as 35 points in the second half before the Badgers finally started getting some stops.
By that time, it was too late for UW, which now must immediately turn its focus to a road game at Penn State on Monday.
“Even going back to the summer, we’ve played tough and we’ve played together and we didn’t do either of those things this game and the score reflected that,” Happ said. “We’ve got to figure some stuff out.”