Big Ten Tournament: ‘Too deep of a hole’: Badgers face heartbreaking tournament loss against Buckeyes

Tyler Wahl
A disappointed Tyler Wahl, senior forward for Wisconsin, sits at the microphone on Wednesday night after losing to Ohio State in the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament. (Kierstin Lindkvist/MEDILL)

By Kierstin Lindkvist
Medill Reports

The Wisconsin Badgers rebounded from a 27-point deficit but ultimately fell short to the Ohio State Buckeyes 57-65 in the first game of the 2023 Big Ten men’s basketball tournament. 

Freshman Connor Essegian scored 11 points — his 22nd double-figure effort of the season, but it wasn’t enough to secure the win.

“I know there was a lot more than we could have done this season, and I was just hoping, you know, we’re able to really prove people wrong,” Essegian said. 

It was a toss-up going into this match-up whether Wisconsin would be one of the last four teams in. The Badgers needed to make a notable stretch in this tournament to secure a spot in the Big Dance coming up later in March. 

Now, according to ESPN’s Bracketology by Joe Lunardi, they’re one of the first four out. When asked if the team would participate in the National Invitational Tournament, the single-elimination 32-team tournament for those who didn’t make March Madness, head coach Greg Gard said he wasn’t sure.

“I haven’t gone down that road. I’ve been focused on this and helping these guys try and do some damage here,” he said. “Hopefully we have more basketball to play. We’ll find out in due time.”

The heartbreaking end to the Badgers’ run in postseason play was a tale of two halves, according to Gard.

“By the time we’d rallied and played with more aggressiveness, more physicality in the second half, obviously we had ourselves dug into way too deep of a hole,” Gard said. “I thought we looked really hesitant.

“I thought they were way more aggressive than we were. They put us on our heels in a lot of situations. They got very comfortable with what they were doing offensively. When you allow a team to shoot 68%, that obviously tells you. We weren’t asserting. We weren’t attacking the paint like we have at times.”

The best way to describe Wisconsin’s gameplay in the first half: hesitant and tentative. Sloppy Badger ball control allowed the Buckeyes to jump out to an early lead, and it went downhill from there, according to Gard.

“We went pretty deep into the half without fouling,” Gard said. “That told me that we’re not physical enough. We’re not up in the ball enough. We didn’t stop dribble penetration on a couple of drives to the rim.” 

Along with low fouls, the team went 0-7 on three-point shots and only shot 30% from the field. 

“There were a lot of guys that everyone just seemed a little tense,” Essegian said. 

Senior Tyler Wahl said there was a high level of frustration going into the locker room at the half.

“We had a little talk in the locker room at halftime in what was at stake and remember what we had to do on we had to come out with a lot more better energy, and we had to get some stops,” Wahl said. “We got some down the stretch, and it just wasn’t enough.”

With fire in their bellies and a riled-up crowd of Badgers fans at the United Center, it looked like Wisconsin could run away with it. The Badgers outscored Ohio State in the second half 39-29, including a 19-2 run late in the game.

“We definitely did not start with the urgency that we needed to,” Wahl said. “We were not sound on defense by the start of it, and from the shots not going in, we just dug ourselves in a huge hole, and it was hard to come back from that.”

Wahl had a game-high 19 points to go along with 10 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season – also recording a game-high three steals in the contest. 

The Badgers end their season 17-14 overall and 9-11 in conference play.

Kierstin Lindkvist is a Medill graduate student in the sports media specialization. Follow her on Twitter @KLindkvistNews or Instagram @kelindkvist, and connect with her on LinkedIn.