Wisconsin Basketball: Badgers historic comeback falls short

Wisconsin basketball dropped their opening round game of the Big Ten tourney to Ohio State, losing 65-57. In a game that many had written off after the first 12 minutes, the Badgers mounted a furious comeback that ultimately fell short.

Wisconsin basketball seemed disinterested 

In a game that many thought Wisconsin needed to win in order to get into the NCAA tournament, the Badgers were surprisingly blase for the first 3/4 of the game. The Big Ten announcers stated before the game that Wisconsin’s coach, Greg Gard, thought that UW had done enough to get an at-large bid come Sunday. It looked like the team thought so too.

For the first 28 minutes of their game against Ohio State, Wisconsin basketball seemed apathetic. Down by as much as 27 points, the Badgers could not have played any worse. Their 18 first-half points were the second-lowest first-half output of the season (they only scored 16 in their last loss to Illinois).

With 11:03 left in the game, Ohio State made a lay-up that stretched their lead back to 22 points.

Wisconsin basketball tried to make magical history

I’ve always thought of Wisconsin basketball as gritty and tenacious. The first 30 minutes of the game was anything but that. The last 10 minutes were a completely different story. The final 10 minutes were some of the most inspired basketball Wisconsin has played all season.

In the midst of this exciting comeback, it was mentioned by the TV announcers that the largest comeback in the Big Ten tourney was a 16-point Ohio State comeback against Nebraska in 2014.

Refusing to go quietly into the night, the Badgers started clawing their way back. They held Ohio State scoreless for 6 and a half minutes. Playing with reckless abandon, they came as close as four points.

Wisconsin ultimately ran out of gas and was incapable of taking advantage of Ohio State’s poor foul shooting. The Badgers’ own foul shooting woes returned as they went 11-18 from the charity stripe.

The few highlights

Senior Tyler Wahl, possibly playing his last Big Ten conference game, did his best to carry the team during their furious comeback. At 25.8%, he isn’t what you would call a great 3-point shooter. But he banked one in at the 2:17 mark that brought the deficit to five points. He was diving for balls, played sticky defense, and had timely offensive rebounds.

For the game, the Badgers were out-rebounded 35-32 overall but had a 15-7 edge in offensive rebounds against the Buckeyes.

Wahl was the leading scorer in the contest, with 19 points on 8-16 shooting from the field and 1-2 from long range. He also led the Badgers in rebounding with ten, steals with three, and tied for the team lead in assists with three.

Connor Essegian was the only other Wisconsin scorer in double-digits, with 11 points. The Badgers’ Big Ten All-Freshman member looked as though the regular season wore him down, as he continued to struggle from long-range, going 1-7 from 3-point land. A full off-season in the UW weight-training program is going to do him a world of good.

Will Wisconsin basketball play again this season?

Half of the “bracketologists” had the Badgers in the “last four in” group, while most of the other half had them in the “first four out” category. Either way, today’s loss all but insured they will not get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

The question is, should they take the invitation that is almost certain to come from the NIT?

I have always been of the mindset that you play a game whenever you can. Extra practice and more game experience can only help this very young squad.

But does playing in the NIT somehow tarnish the reputation of Wisconsin basketball?

I’m not sure that it does. While they have made the Big Dance an impressive 23 out of the last 25 seasons (not including the COVID-19 season when the season was canceled), with three Final Four appearances, Wisconsin’s last national championship in basketball was in the 1940-41 season. The Badgers aren’t a “blue-blood” basketball school like Kansas (who has made 32 consecutive NCAA tournaments) or North Carolina.

From where this season started off, the end was certainly a disappointment. Wisconsin has some serious flaws as a team, but they also have a lot of moxie, never giving up and battling to the end, not to mention some good, young talent.

I am definitely expecting a much different outcome tonight (and for the next couple of games, honestly), and am incredibly disappointed they lost.

I may be in the minority here, but I want to see this team play as many games as possible. If that means going to the NIT (which is holding its “Final Four” in Las Vegas this year), then so be it.