Buckeyes Show Both Sides of Coin in Loss to Kansas
By Brandon Castel
NEW ORLEANS — Both good and bad, Ohio State was everything it could be Saturday night.
At their peak, the Buckeyes were knocking down outside shots, scoring in the paint and sharing the basketball on offense the way they did in an 85-63 blowout of Duke back in December.
They were connected on defense, making things tough on Kansas’s big man Thomas Robinson, while scoring easy baskets in transition.
When they reached their valley in the second half, however, the Buckeyes were the complete opposite of everything that allowed them to build a 13-point lead over the first 19 minutes of the game.
“I thought we played the first half very effectively. Second half obviously we didn't shoot the ball to the level we needed to,” OSU head coach Thad Matta said.
“I thought Kansas was much more active defensively, using their athleticism. Our execution wasn't as good. We didn't get as clean of looks as we needed.”6
A big part of that was the absence of Deshaun Thomas, the tournament’s leading scorer and they guy who had carried Ohio State through so many tough stretches this postseason with his shot-making ability.
The Buckeyes were ahead by 13 points at the end of the first half when Thomas went to the bench with his second foul. They were still ahead by seven points, 36-29, when Thomas picked up his third foul less than three minutes into the second half.
That’s when everything changed.
Instead of unselfishly sharing the ball like they did in the first half—and like they do whenever they are playing great team basketball—the Buckeyes were forced to funnel everything through Jared Sullinger.
“Deshaun only playing 23 minutes tonight hurt us because they were able to sit (Jeff) Withey down there and allowed him to double‑team,” Matta said.
“The game plan going in was we were going to have to spread him out and give him time to work, but also Deshaun the opportunity to stretch the defense.”
After scoring 87 points through the first four games of the tournament, Thomas missed his first four shots out of the gate against Kansas Saturday, including a trio of attempts from behind the arc. He was just 3-8 from the floor in the first half, but felt like his shots were on the verge of going down.
“I thought I was getting some good looks, they just weren’t going in,” Thomas said.
“They felt good when they left my hand and my teammates kept telling me to keep shooting. Whenever it’s going like that, it only takes one two going in to get me going.”
But Thomas never got that chance.
While he was sitting on the bench, Kansas quickly closed the gap to two on a three by Elijah Johnson. They tied the game at 38-all with 14:06 remaining on a layup from Johnson, and Matta immediately turned to get Thomas back in the game.
He checked in at the 12:44 mark with Ohio State leading 41-38, but his stay would be short-lived. After missing a wild driving layup on his first possession, Thomas picked up his fourth foul reaching from behind for a rebound against Withey on the offensive end.
That’s when things really started to come unraveled.
Three-pointers by Lenzelle Smith, Jr. and William Buford briefly kept Ohio State in the lead, but without Thomas on the floor, the offense simply wasn’t potent enough to keep the Buckeyes out in front.
With Travis Releford on Buford, Ohio State’s only hot shooter, the other Kansas defenders were quick to help off their man every time Sullinger caught the ball in the paint. That included Robinson, who was all-to-eager to leave Evan Ravenel or Amir Williams in an attempt to swarm and frustrate Sullinger on the block.
Feeling the game slipping away, Sullinger tried to impose his will on the offensive end, but that is not how this Ohio State team has won big games all year. As a result, they stopped sharing the ball, they stopped moving, they stopped playing unselfishly and allowed the Jayhawks to focus all of their attention on Sullinger.
“Down the stretch as this tournament goes, it comes down to making some plays,” Matta said.
“Give them credit, they did a great job of finishing where we had the ball, had some great shots, and wasn't able to go in for us.”
By the time Thomas did get back on the floor, there were only four minutes left in the game, but the Buckeyes were somehow still ahead by two points. It wouldn’t last long, however, as they continued to play out of sync on the offensive end.
Frustrated about missing half of a Final Four game, Thomas started forcing up shots in an attempt to help the Buckeyes lock up a trip to the national championship game.
His misses had the opposite effect.
The Buckeyes fell behind by three, 62-59, on a layup by Johnson at the 1:12 mark. It came off a missed jumper by Buford, who also failed to contest Johnson’s easy layup at the other end.
Thomas hoisted up two threes that looked more like desperation heaves than actual shots, and the Buckeyes made a pair of careless turnovers in the final seconds as the victory slipped away.
“That's the way the ball rolls,” Sullinger said.
“We still had a chance to win this game. We just didn't execute. You got to give all the credit to Kansas. They came out and they played hard, they never gave up. I mean, it was a great game.”
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