First Thoughts From a 64-62 Loss to Kansas in the National Semifinals
By Tony Gerdeman
The Buckeyes controlled the first half of the game, but as we've seen all season—and all Tournament long—Ohio State can only handle so much success before having to mix in a little bit of failure.
Well, against Kansas Saturday night, they misread the recipe and added in way too much failure. By the time it got all mixed together, there was no saving it.
This was labeled as a battle of the front courts, and it didn't end up being much of a battle. Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson combined to outscore Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas 23-22, but they dominated the Buckeye duo down the stretch.
For the most part, Thomas stayed outside in this game, and his 3-14 shooting showed that he could've used some easier shots than the ones he took, though I'm not sure he thought he would be able to get them off against Robinson and then Withey.
Rather than take the game to Robinson, he avoided him, and his shooting struggled.
Taking the opposite tack, Sullinger finished 5-19 from the field and was the supplier of most of Withey's seven blocks on the night. He kept going at Withey down low, and Withey kept denying him.
It wasn't smart basketball, and because of it, Ohio State's next game will come in November.
The main thing that struck me from this game is that Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas combined to shoot 8-33 from the field.
Two guys who were likely hoping this would be their last game as Buckeyes had two of their worst games of the season. I don't think they were "mentally checked out", as people like to say, but it still strikes me as quite a coincidence.
What was not a coincidence, however, is that the Jayhawks who were defending them were more than up to the task. These are the types of defenders that both Thomas and Sullinger are going to run into when they both do decide to leave, but I doubt that will impact their decisions at all.
Watching the game, I initially thought that Thomas was staying outside in order to keep Robinson from clogging the paint defensively more than it already was. But as the game went on, it started looking like Thomas simply didn't want to mix it up with Robinson.
Thomas is more effective in the paint than out of it, and only pulling down two offensive rebounds when his team misses 39 shots isn't like him at all.
Robinson is the type of player he will run into every night in the NBA, and if that keeps him from playing his normal style of basketball, then he certainly has a lot to think about right now.
Sullinger's physical limitations will never not be limitations, so whether he stays or goes, he's never going to be more athletic than he is right now. In other words, he's as ready as he'll ever be, so be shocked if he stays.
While Sullinger and Thomas may have been looking to say goodbye, senior William Buford certainly was not. He came to play, and he stayed through the entire show.
As rough as things have been for him of late, he stepped up in this game and was a factor for every single one of his 35 minutes tonight.
Remember when Buckeye fans said that Ohio State needed Buford to shoot well in order to win? Looks like they didn't expect everyone else to go belly up when they made those claims.
Buford leaves Ohio State tied with Jerry Lucas for third all-time in scoring in school history with 1,990 points. He will be remembered for some rough shooting patches, but he should also be remembered as one of the most consistent scorers in Ohio State history.
Not to keep pounding this dead horse, but Deshaun Thomas was just a little too geared up for this game. He was shooting just to shoot, regardless of whether he actually had a good look or not.
There was just something that was a bit off for him tonight. It was like watching a cat who had gotten into a bag of catnip. Very little made sense.
The Ohio State team defense in the first half was outstanding. Kansas had no answers. They shot 11-30 (36.7%) from the field, and looked confused doing it.
The Buckeyes led by nine at the half, but only scored six points over the final five minutes of the half. In other words, the Kansas team defense took over and never relented.
After shooting 12-26 (46.2%) in the first half, the Buckeyes went out and shot 8-33 (24.2%) from the field in the second half, including just 3-12 (25%) from three-point range.
Scoring simply got very tough for Ohio State to close out the first half, and it never got much easier in the second half. The Jayhawks, meanwhile, shot 14-26 (53.8%) from the field over the final twenty minutes. Looking at the numbers and the trends, the end was probably more inevitable than Buckeye fans would like to admit.
Ohio State didn't give this game away—Kansas took it from them.
People will be talking about Ohio State's final possession of the first half which led to a Kansas layup, but I don't see it as a big deal. The Buckeyes still led by nine points at the half.
And it's not like Ohio State wasn't going to let them back in the game without that layup.
Second Obligatory Thought
Yes, college basketball referees are terrible, but this isn't new. It's not a surprise. If you're going to follow the sport, you have to accept the sport in its entirety, ridiculously brutal flaws and all.
Still, there were some Buckeye drives in the second half that should have been called, right? I ask this in question form since CBS would never show replays of anything.
While we're on the subject, CBS' production for this entire Tournament has pretty much been horrible, and tonight was a microcosm of their entire fortnight-long production.
This is not your first rodeo, CBS. What's your next blunder, having Pitbull sing 'One Shining Moment'?
Very Serious Thought
I'm going to miss watching Aaron Craft play basketball over these next seven months or so. There are few things in sports more enjoyable than simply watching him play the game the way it was meant to be played.
He is one of the best things going in sports right now. Even trying to put it into words is difficult to do because I just can't do it justice. He is everything that is right and true about sports. Ohio State is incredibly fortunate to have him as a representative.
There are probably going to be some drastic lineup changes from now to November, but there is still quite a bit to like down the road.
For one, I'm excited to see the progression that Lenzelle Smith makes. He will be called upon to score more, as will Craft. They should continue to develop into the most hated backcourt in the Big Ten with relative ease.
What the rest of the team will look like is an unknown, but there are some intriguing prospects who will no doubt get better from now til then.
And as long as Aaron Craft is on your team, you're already ahead of the game.
Despite what you may think or may be feeling at the moment, this was a great year for Ohio State basketball. The Final Four is the measure for any program, and the Buckeyes measured up just fine.
If you were disappointed by this season, then you need to do some recalibrating of your expectations. Yes, this loss probably bothers you to a great extent, but let me ask you something—what do you remember most about the Final Four in 1999, the loss to Connecticut, or everything else?
That's what I thought.
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