Despite its recent losses, Ohio State remains in contention for another Big Ten title. Another subpar performance against a ranked opponent, though, might all but end those championship hopes.
The eighth-ranked Buckeyes will try to keep those alive by getting past No. 16 Wisconsin in their final home game of the season Sunday.
Ohio State (23-5, 11-4) has split its past four games - with both of those losses against Top 25 teams - and is 1 1/2 games behind Michigan State in the conference race. The Buckeyes, seeking their fifth title in seven seasons and third in a row, will visit the Spartans on March 4 to conclude the regular season.
After shooting 38.8 percent in a 56-51 loss at rival Michigan on Feb. 18, Ohio State bounced back with a 65.3 percent performance - its second-best this season - in an 83-67 rout of visiting Illinois on Tuesday. The Buckeyes made 11 of their first 12 shots in that game.
Deshaun Thomas finished with a team-best 19 points while making six of his eight shots, and William Buford had 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting.
"We had to come with great intensity and really bring it," said Buford, who was 34 of 86 (39.5 percent) over his previous six games.
Buford, who has been a part of 108 wins over his four seasons, will be the only Buckeyes player participating in his final home game. The senior guard is 34 points shy of surpassing Michael Redd for fifth on the school's scoring list.
"You look at all of what's he been a part of in his time here ... and the impact he's had on the younger guys this season," coach Thad Matta said. "He's been a rock."
The young Buckeyes have gone 5-4 against ranked opponents this season but won 58-52 at then-No. 19 Wisconsin on Feb. 4. Jared Sullinger had 24 points and 10 rebounds as Ohio State snapped a nine-game skid in Madison.
Buford missed 11 of 15 shots but hit a key 3-pointer - his team's only one - with 2:27 remaining to give the Buckeyes a four-point lead.
Ohio State seeks its first three-game win streak in this series since a five-game run Feb. 25, 1998-Feb. 2, 2000, and its fifth victory in six visits by the Badgers (20-8, 9-6). Among those previous wins was a 93-65 blowout March 6 that saw the Buckeyes shoot an NCAA-record 14 of 15 from 3-point range and 68.1 percent overall.
Wisconsin has fared even worse than Ohio State against ranked teams this season at 2-6 but it was unranked Iowa that proved too difficult Thursday. The Badgers nearly erased a 13-point deficit in the second half, getting to within two with 21 seconds left, but couldn't take control in a 67-66 defeat.
"Guys were a little anxious, trying to make the great play instead of the good play," coach Bo Ryan said of his team, which committed 11 of its 13 turnovers in the first half.
Leading scorer Jordan Taylor (14.1 ppg) finished with nine points to end a streak of 17 consecutive games in double figures.
Taylor, who is three points shy of 1,400 for his career, scored 27 during a 71-67 upset of then-No. 1 Ohio State on Feb. 12, 2011, but he's also been held to single digits in two of his four starts against the Buckeyes.
Ohio State leads the series 83-65 and has won 52 of 73 matchups in Columbus.
- Ohio State