Bitter Sweet End
By Brandon Castel
NEWARK, N.J. — After a nightmarish shooting night, junior William Buford had a chance to be the hero in Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky.
In the final seconds following Brandon Knight’s go-ahead basket at the other end, Buford pulled up for a three that would have sent Ohio State on to the Elite Eight.
Fittingly, his final shot bounced off the front of the rim before being swatted away by Kentucky center Josh Harrellson, as the 4-seed Wildcats bounced the No. 1-seed Buckeyes from the NCAA Tournament with a 62-60 win.
“It felt good, it just didn’t go in,” said Buford, who finished the game 2-of-16 shooting.
“As a team we had good looks, shots just weren’t falling.”
One of the most efficient scoring teams in the country this season, the Buckeyes couldn’t seem to make anything Friday night at the Prudential Center in New Jersey. At one point it got so bad that OSU coach Thad Matta called a timeout just to tell his players they needed to start putting the ball in the basket.
“I think honestly some of the shots we missed are shots we have been making all year,” senior Jon Diebler said.
“It is one of those games you have to give them credit. I thought they did a good job of challenging shots obviously with their length. Again, we are going against length all year and those are shots that we make, and tonight they weren't going in.”
Even with their poor shooting, the Buckeyes (34-3) were in the game right until the end. They found themselves down by three with 36 seconds to play after DeAndre Liggins banked in a jumper shot to give Kentucky a 60-57 lead.
Matta drew up a play at the other end, but it didn’t work. The Wildcats sniffed it out, which forced Diebler to launch a deep three.
“They kind of cheated it and I was just fortunate to make a move and break free,” he said.
“I think Jared (Sullinger) set a really good ball-screen up top and I was just fortunate enough it went in.”
As if there was any doubt.
Diebler was 4-for-7 behind the arc in the game and came through when his team needed him most. The school’s all-time leader in three pointers hit maybe the biggest one of his career with 23 seconds on the clock.
It was the kind of play that should have sent the game to overtime, but this is March Madness. Despite attempts by Matta to a call a timeout in order to set up his defense, the Wildcats raced the ball down the floor. As expected, Knight had the ball in his hands and tried to drive to the basket on Aaron Craft, who had kept him in check for most of the night.
One again Craft took away Knight’s right hand, which forced the freshman point guard to pull up for a 15-foot jumper.
“He made good play. I feel awful. I thought I contested him pretty well, but he made a good shot,” said Craft, who had limited Knight to just seven points on 2-of-9 shooting and six turnovers before hitting the game-winner.
“It’s something I would take back and change something up, but obviously we can’t right now.”
Ohio State did get 21 points and 16 rebounds from Sullinger, but he did not dominate the game the way he has many times this season. He was 7-of-14 from the floor and 7-of-9 from the free throw line, but Kentucky center Josh Harrellson held his own in the post against the National Freshman of the Year.
“If you asked me at the beginning of the year, I would say no,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said when asked if he thought Harrellson could have that big of a night.
“But you know what? I have done this a long time. I'm not sure if I have ever been this proud of a young man who, you know, he's going to do what he wants to do now. But he changed. He did it himself. It's not what I did. We put him on stage, but they have to perform.”
The 6-foot-10 senior finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds, but most importantly, he frustrated Sullinger, who was used to having his way with college centers. With Harrellson defending, Sullinger forced up a couple of off-balance shots down the stretch, including one that hit the bottom of the rim and another that went off the side of the backboard.
Unlike their Sweet 16 loss to Tennessee a year ago, the Buckeyes out-rebounded Kentucky 36-32, but it was a great defensive performance by the Wildcats mixed with an off shooting night for Ohio State.
It was simply the wrong night for the Buckeyes to go cold, but in a win-or-go-home tournament, they won’t get another chance.
“It hurts because we felt we could make a run at the championship. By no means did we overlook this team. They're a great basketball team, very talented,” Diebler said.
“You can't take away from what we did this season, we had a great run, but it does hurt for it to end like this.”
Game Play by Play
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