Not Enough in the Tank
Buckeyes Fizzle Out in Loss to Kansas
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State fans booed the referees as they left the court at Value City Arena Saturday. It was the best thing they could do to keep from booing their own players.
After a back-and-forth battle in the first half, the Buckeyes shot 25 percent in the second half and went 2-of-18 from behind the arc against a Kansas team that seemed to have weapons all over the court.
“At one point I turned to the bench and said, ‘Hey, let’s call a play where we score,’ ” Matta quipped while shaking his head at the podium.
“Nevertheless, it was as high level of a basketball as you can find at this time of the year. The way Kansas was playing coming into the game and their experience showed on the tapes we watched. I thought we battled them, but didn’t play with the toughness and tenacity we needed to.”
The 9th-ranked Jayhawks picked up where they left off in the Final Four, harassing the Buckeyes up and down the court for 40 minutes during a 74-66 win in Columbus. They focused most of their attention on preseason All-American Deshaun Thomas, an NBA-caliber scorer who torched Kansas for 19 points last year at Phog Allen Fieldhouse.
“Coach (Bill) Self is all about defense and we showed that today,” said Jeff Withey, the Jayhawks’ seven-foot enforcer in the post.
“We shut down their best scorer. When they went on their run, we have a good group of vets that have been in this situation before that could talk to the young guys and tell them to calm down and focus on defense. It all starts on defense.”
Deshaun’s supporting cast tried to help him out Saturday. They even hit a couple big threes in the first half to keep Ohio State in the game, but in the end, they just didn’t have it in them.
“I thought Deshaun played pretty good considering they had a spotlight on him at all time,” Matta said.
Thomas was 4-of-11 from the floor, but two of his misses came on forced shots late in the game as the Buckeyes were furiously trying to rally from a 10-point deficit on their home floor.
He still managed 16 points and six rebounds despite struggling to get open looks against a pesky Travis Releford, and the big man Withey, who was often waiting for him in the paint.
“They started doubling him at 16 feet,” Matta said.
“The only way to change that is for some of other guys to start hitting shots. That’s the only thing that makes them say, ‘maybe we don’t want to do that.’”
Unfortunately for Thomas, and for the Buckeyes, those other guys were not hitting their shots, even when they got open looks.
“They played hard. We had wide-open looks and I trusted my teammates to knock down the shots,” said Thomas, who seemed frustrated by the end of the game.
“They had good looks and they just didn’t go down. I just kept telling them to keep shooting, but they just weren’t going in today.”
The Buckeyes actually led by as many as eight points with just six minutes to play in the first half, but much like the game at Duke earlier in the year – or the loss to Kansas in the Final Four for that matter – they just couldn’t make enough plays down the stretch.
Shannon Scott provided a spark in the first half, scoring 10 of his career-high 15 points before the break. His three-pointer capped off a 14-0 run for the Buckeyes and gave Ohio State a 31-23 lead over the visiting Jayhawks with 6:13 remaining in the first half.
It was all downhill from there.
Kevin Young’s dunk put an end to Ohio State’s run, and the Jayhawks quickly ripped off a 9-0 blitz of their own to retake the lead on a jumper by Elijah Johnson with 2:18 remaining in the half.
Kansas would close out the first half on a 14-4 run that was reminiscent of the end of that first half down in New Orleans back in March.
“Today’s probably the best we’ve played against Ohio State in three games,” Self said.
“I thought we were really good except for a three-minute stretch in the first half when they went on a 10-0 run, or something like that.”
Redshirt freshman Ben McLemore keyed things for Self’s Jayhawks. A future NBA first round draft pick, McLemore splashed in 13 of his game-high 22 points in the first half. The Buckeyes lost him in the corner a number of times, but he was all over the court making plays on the offensive end.
“The leadership they have – I mean who starts four seniors at this level anymore? I haven't had four seniors in eight years,” Matta said.
“And Ben McLemore is as good as any player in the country.”
But this was more about the Buckeyes than it was about Kansas. Certainly the Jayhawks disrupted Ohio State’s flow offensively, especially in the second half when they got back on defense and prevented the Buckeyes from getting easy baskets in transition.
Much like the Blue Devils down in Durham, the Jayhawks forced players other than Thomas to make jump shots in the second half, and that proved to be the winning recipe for Self and his players.
Ohio State was a combined 9-of-36 from the floor in the second half, with just about everyone getting in on the action. Sam Thompson was 0-for-3 in the second half and 3-of-10 for the game. Craft had a bagel on six tries in the second half and finished 2-of-9 from the floor.
Matta even tried LaQuinton Ross this time in hopes that he could provide a spark, but the sophomore was 1-of-5 from the floor with three misses from behind the arc. Evan Ravenel missed both of his shots from the floor, but it was Lenzelle Smith, Jr. who really hurt the Buckeyes.
Considered to be one of the better shooters on the team, Smith was just 3-of-13 from the floor against Kansas. He missed nine of his first 10 shots and went 0-fer from behind the arc on seven tries.
“To be honest this game was a lot like the second half of the Final Four game in New Orleans,” Matta said, “where the ball just wouldn’t go in the basket for us.”
Now the Buckeyes have to regroup from this for their next contest against Chicago State one week from today. It will be the last non-conference game of the season before Ohio State starts a brutal Big Ten stretch that includes trips to Illinois, Purdue and Michigan State in the first three weeks of the new year.
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