First Thoughts From a 78-67 Loss at Kansas
By Tony Gerdeman
When the news finally hit prior to tip-off that Jared Sullinger wasn't going to be able to play, it was obvious that Saturday's game was going to be a two-hour uphill battle.
Not that the Buckeyes didn't have the talent to win--they clearly did, but it would have been asking an awful lot to do it on Kansas' home court.
To me, this game was a heavyweight boxing match and Ohio State was fighting with a broken right hand. They were missing their knockout power, but their chin was solid. Kansas tried to finish them time and again, but the Buckeyes never dropped to the canvas.
They battled the entire time. When things started to look really bad, they would put five quick points on the board and show some offense. But it wasn't enough to stun the Jayhawks, who always had an answer.
Kansas controlled the fight throughout, but the Buckeyes kept coming back, hoping for a flurry at the end to sneak out with a win. It just wasn't to be, however. They missed their haymaker too much.
First Thought - Ohio State is littered with very good players, but when Jared Sullinger is on the court, most everybody is a complementary piece to a much larger puzzle. That's not a knock on them, it just means that they are beneficiaries of Sullinger's gravitational pull on opposing defenses.
Without that gravitational pull, however, each of them finds themselves floating around out in space, and it can sometimes take a while for them to get re-oriented.
For a guy like Deshaun Thomas who will look for offense no matter his orientation, it's not such a huge deal. For a guy like William Buford, however, it's completely different.
Buford has made himself a first-round NBA draft pick because of his jumper. When there's no collapsing defense down low to allow open looks, Buford then has to find shots on his own. He wasn't able to do this until the game was no longer in doubt.
His inability to adjust quicker made things tougher for everybody in the Scarlet and Gray. It even made Aaron Craft force some things on offense that were probably ill-advised.
They were a team looking for an identity, and Buford was looking right along with everyone else. Next time this happens, they'll have a better idea of where to look
Reliant Thought - Maybe after Saturday, I can finally move beyond not knowing what to expect from Deshaun Thomas in big games. He scored 18 against Duke and 19 against Kansas, and in both games, the opponents had very little answer for him.
I will always expect him to miss his first three-pointer long, but it's no longer fair for me to expect him to disappear for long stretches when his offense is lacking, because that's just not who he is anymore. That's not to say it won't happen again, but just that I shouldn't expect it to happen.
Thomas is putting the ball on the floor each game, he's passing up good looks for better ones, and he improves each time out on defense. That's not a player that I should worry about. That's a player that I should start expecting performance from. From now on, I will.
Fresh Thought - I love the fact that Amir Williams played meaningful minutes in a game like this, and he wasn't out of place doing it.
Williams got fifteen good minutes and pulled down three offensive rebounds. He also threw down a nasty dunk with absolutely zero hesitation.
There is a place in this rotation for Williams, especially as Deshaun Thomas continues to improve his game and become more of an actual small forward.
He's still raw, but that's not rare for 6'9" freshmen. The Big Ten is going to be a tremendous grind this season, and there will be times where Williams can come in and actually contribute.
He can't just occupy minutes, however, he has to make something happen with them.
Saturday's game helped him in this regard for the future. I would like this to mean more minutes down the road for him this season, but it won't.
Losing Thought - Before the game, I tweeted that this was a no-lose situation for the Buckeyes because a loss without Sullinger would be forgiven, and a win would be lauded as some form of miracle.
A win would have been nice for Ohio State, but they impressed nearly as many people just for the way they stayed in it. But give credit to Kansas as well. They kept the Buckeyes at arm's length and any time the game got to within three points, the Jayhawks would respond with three or four points of their own.
While this game wasn't indicative of the real Ohio State Buckeyes, it was indicative of the heart that every one of them possesses.
Defensive Thought - While it was a blow to the Buckeyes having Jared Sullinger out of the lineup, I don't know how that explains Kansas shooting 65.2% from the field in the first half.
It's not like Sullinger would have been at the top of the key keeping Tyshawn Taylor from driving and dishing for one of his thirteen assists, and he wasn't the one who would have been rotating over to keep Elijah Johnson from going 5-7 from behind the three-point line. (It was doubly-worse that most of Johnson's threes seem to be of the dagger variety.)
It's okay to be a bit worried if a teammate the caliber of Sullinger is not going to be playing, but it should never affect your ability to close out on a shot, or keep the ball in front of you.
So while we're all chalking this loss up to the fact that Sullinger was in church clothes, let's not forget that Kansas scored when they wanted to, and most especially when they needed to. That is why they won.
Final Thought - During practices, every team around the nation has "situations" that they are put in to simulate what might happen down the road. Saturday was a two-hour situational practice for the Buckeyes, and they better make it count in the months to come.
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