Buckeyes Hang Tough Without Sullinger, Come Up Short at Kansas
By Brandon Castel
LAWRENCE, Kan. — Jared Sullinger tried to convince Thad Matta he was ready to play in Saturday’s game at No. 13 Kansas (7-2), but in the end the second-ranked Buckeyes had to play their first road game without him.
Ohio State (8-1) got 15 first-half points from sophomore Deshaun Thomas and 17 in the second half from senior William Buford, but they could not make the plays down the stretch to overcome the absence of their star player in a 78-67 loss at Allen Fieldhouse.
“It’s a tremendous change (without him) because he’s the best big man in the country; maybe the best player in the country,” Buford said after scoring 17 of his team-high 21 points in the second half.
“When you’re missing out on that, you’re going to have difficulties making some adjustments.”
Sullinger made the trip to Lawrence and tried to stretch out his back enough to get himself back on the court after missing one game with back spasms. In the end, he spent the day watching anxiously from the bench, wearing a sweater and jeans as the Buckeyes struggled to find consistency at the offensive end.
“We probably knew he wasn’t going to play all week and we took that as a challenge,” Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft said.
“We needed some guys to step up; the guys that don’t play and the ones that don’t play a lot.”
One thing they were not going to do is make excuses.
The Buckeyes got a combined 11 points and eight rebounds from Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams, the two players who replaced Sullinger in the paint against Kansas. Their biggest issues, however, may have come at the defensive end where the Jayhawks shot 58 percent from the floor and 53 percent from behind the arc.
“Any time you lose, you’re going to be upset. I do think we have a young team, but that’s not an excuse at all,” Craft added.
“Give Kansas all the credit. We continued to fight back today, being down 10 or 11 two or three times during the game. Kansas is a great team and they made us pay for our mistakes.”
Those mistakes started with Buford, who shot just 1-of-7 in the first half, but they were compounded by the fact none of his teammates could get the ball to go in the basket either. Craft was 1-of-4 in the first half, Ravenel was 0-of-2 and the entire bench gave them a total of two points.
They did get 15 from Thomas on 5-of-8 shooting, but still trailed 35-29 at the half.
It looked like the Jayhawks might run Ohio State out of the gym in the second half as their crowd surged with the excitement of hiring new football coach Charlie Weis. Kansas built a 12-point lead on a vicious dunk by Thomas Robinson with 12:02 to play, but the Buckeyes refused to quit.
“Not at all, we’re still a good team without Jared and we’re a great team with him,” said Buford, who finally rediscovered his shooting stroke in the second half.
“Just because he doesn’t play, doesn’t mean we aren’t going to play well or fight just because he’s not there. He’s a great player but we’re still a great basketball team.
Kansas Head Coach Bill Self could not have agreed more.
“Don’t put an asterisk next to this. We beat Ohio State. Without Sullinger, they are a top-5 team, and with him, they are a top-2 team. They are that good,” Self said after the win.
“We caught a break (with Sullinger not playing) just like we caught a break when Blake Griffin didn’t play at OU. We still went down there and outscored them 60-25 in a stretch. We’re not going to apologize for winning this one in any way, shape or form.”
After totaling seven points and zero rebounds in the first half, Robinson took over the game down the stretch. He caused Ravenel to foul out in the second half and scored 10 of his team-high 21 points in the final four minutes of the game.
The Buckeyes had managed to cut the Kansas lead to four, at 62-58 with 5:39 to play. Thomas extended the lead back to seven with a jumper and went on to score 10-straight points for the Jayhawks as they increased their lead back to nine in the final minutes.
“I thought our guys competed, but we came up with some empty possessions,” Matta said.
“As I told our guys, we lost to a great, great basketball team in a phenomenal environment. My hat goes off to the people in this building. The Kansas fans were tremendous today.”
Buford finished with 21, Thomas added 19 and Craft scored 11 to go with five rebounds and six assists. Ravenel totaled nine points and five rebounds in his second-consecutive start.
The Buckeyes will have four days of rest before they host South Carolina Upstate Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. ET, BTN) in Columbus.
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