No matter how ugly this one was, Wisconsin made one thing clear. The Badgers still believe they're poised to make noise.
They'll have to do better than this, though.
Deshaun Thomas scored 17 points and No. 10 Ohio State used its stout defense to beat the 22nd-ranked Badgers 50-43 on Sunday to capture a conference-best fifth tournament championship.
It was a disappointing afternoon for the Badgers after they knocked off Michigan and Indiana the previous two days, but they believe they're ready for what lies ahead after going through the Big Ten grinder.
"We took down the Michigan team, Indiana team so we know we can beat anyone in the country," forward Ryan Evans said.
They just couldn't take out the Buckeyes after beating them by 22 points last month and handing them their most lopsided loss of the season. Now, they have a second-round matchup with SEC tournament champion Mississippi in the NCAA tournament after earning the fifth seed in the West Region and could wind up meeting Kansas State in the next round in Kansas City.
Traevon Jackson scored 10 points for the Badgers (23-11), and none of his teammates reached double figures, with Sam Dekker next up at eight points.
Both teams shot just over 38 percent from the field and were atrocious from long range. The Badgers made 3 of 18 3-pointers, but as bad as they were, Ohio State was even worse. The Buckeyes made just 1 of 16 but managed to come away with the championship.
"For the most part, if you can look at a stat and see a team goes 1 for 16, you go, 'Wow, you really have a great chance,'" Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said.
The problem was the Badgers weren't connecting and went the final 7 minutes without a field goal, a sour ending to an otherwise impressive showing in a physical tournament that left Michigan State's Tom Izzo almost relieved to be done with it after losing to Ohio State in the semifinals. The Spartans' coach said he'd rather play the Los Angeles Lakers than another Big Ten team.
"You beat each other up all year," Wisconsin's Ben Brust said. "You know everything everyone's going to do."
But he also sees a benefit to this and believes the grind will make the Badgers stronger. That's something Ryan tried to emphasize, too.
He dismissed the idea that his team might be worn out and even impersonated Allen Iverson in the process.
"Unless I missed something growing up, I always wanted to play. So play," he said. "Our guys like to play. You should see some of our practices. Yeah, I'm talking about practice."
And they'll have a few issues to address after this one. So will Ohio State, for that matter.
Thomas was 6 for 19 from the field, but made some big free throws down the stretch to help Ohio State win the championship for the third time in four years. He also had seven rebounds as the Buckeyes enjoyed a 50-43 advantage on the glass.
Aaron Craft had nine points and six rebounds, and LaQuinton Ross delivered a couple of huge plays for the Buckeyes (26-7).
Wisconsin and Ohio State were close for most of the second half, but the Buckeyes seized on a cold spell by the Badgers to move in front down the stretch.
After Dekker scored on a reverse layup with 7:03 remaining, Wisconsin went scoreless for the next 4½ minutes and did not get another field goal the rest of the way.
Ross stepped up for Ohio State. He had a strong offensive rebound and putback, then converted a layup to make it 47-41 with 2:39 to go.
Jackson made two free throws to stop the scoring drought for the Badgers, who forced a shot clock violation on the other end. But Brust missed a long 3-pointer and Thomas went 3 for 4 at the line in the final minute.
The sluggish finish aside, the Badgers insist big things are in store for them.
"We normally get up for the bigger games," Evans said. "We've got guys that are ready to play in the bigger games. We took down top seeds all year. It's a lot to look forward to."