Ohio State and Kansas met for the second time this year, this time on the neutral court of the Superdome in New Orleans. Both teams played tough basketball, but the Buckeyes were unable to maintain their nine point halftime lead, falling to the Jayhawks for the second time 64-62. William Buford’s game high 19 points were not enough to lift the Bucks over Kansas’s Thomas Robinson, who matched Buford with 19. Travis Releford scored a critical 15 for the Jayhawks, including four free throws at the end to seal the game.
Neither team started the game with their heads quite in the right place offensively for the first few possessions. While Kansas did score a quick duece on their first possession, they spent their next seven possessions taking atrocious shots. That was matched by the Buckeyes on the other end of the court early. Only when Lenzelle Smith dropped a three pointer did the Buckeyes settle down and start making better decisions with the basketball, leading to a 7-0 run through about four minutes of play.
Kansas attempted to make early adjustments to try to counter the little OSU run. By moving the ball better, the Jayhawks were able to find better looks at the basket and began to make their looks again. Not surprisingly, Thad Matta reinspired the defense on the subsequent timeout. The pep-talk seemed to work, giving the Buckeyes the necessary intensity to make offense difficult for the Jayhawks.
Much to Buckeye fan’s relief “good” Buford made an appearance in this one. As has been apparent all season, Buford’s shooting is strongly dependent on his early game shots. If he makes good decisions early, like he did today, his shooting is generally strong all game long. If instead his decisions are poor early, his shooting struggles throughout. However, one thing Buford never seems to struggle with is assisting his teammates, playing good defense, and tough rebounding. It was critical, though, that his shots started falling early, allowing him to build his shooting confidence early.
Amazingly, the Buckeye’s leading scorer in the tournament – Mr. DeShaun “Tank” Thomas – struggled terribly early on in the game. A lot of his issues resulted from the tough defense Kansas chose to play on him considering his role on the team. Unfortunately, by focusing the defense on Thomas Kansas sacrificed their defense elsewhere. The Buckeyes, particularly Aaron Craft and William Buford, took advantage of that by sinking a number of medium and long range buckets.
Kansas’s stars had difficulty making much happen against OSU’s incredible defense. In particular Thomas Robinson who only shot 4/10 for the first half, not great for an interior forward. Repeatedly the Buckeyes drew charges against the Jayhawks, or forced Kansas into poor turnovers. When Kansas could try to take a shot they rarely could find a good one, only occasionally getting it into the lane and finding it even remotely undefended. The team quickness for Ohio State just simply seemed too much for Kansas to handle.
The Jayhawks weren’t going to stay down forever. Despite being down by double digits for most of the half, they continued to plug away on offense. Kansas was even able to get down to single digits on a last second fast break after OSU failed on their own last second shot attempt. The only reason that was possible, however, was because Bill Self and his boys kept themselves in position despite the rough start to the game.
Following their modus operandi for the entire tournament, Kansas came out of the locker rooms playing inspired basketball in the second half. Their scoring differential in first halves was a paltry -6, whereas they put together an incredible +31 overall in the second stanza. Not surprisingly, the Buckeyes had difficulties on both ends of the court trying to keep control of the surging Jayhawks. OSU couldn’t find a basket at all from anywhere on the court, and were struggling in securing defensive rebounds allowing Kansas to get multiple second, third, and even fourth chance shots.
The Jayhawks spent the first 7 minutes of the game slowly working their way back into the game. It seemed like there was just nothing the Buckeyes could do to stem the tide. Before anyone could really grasp what was happening, the Jayhawks tied the game at 38. However, a well timed three pointer from Craft and renewed defensive intensity allowed the Buckeyes to open up a little space again. It seemed like they had taken a punch in the mouth and taken a bit of time to pick themselves off the mat.
From that point forward it was a tough battle for both teams, particularly in the paint. Jared Sullinger struggled to score buckets inside all game long, which hurt OSU’s ability to maintain the lead in the face of the gritty Kansas comeback. Thomas Robinson started to exert his will inside, but only in the second half, and only once Deshaun Thomas was forced to the bench in foul trouble. Robinson seemed to struggle against the combination of Thomas and Sullinger, but had better success against Amir Williams and Evan Ravenel.
With six minutes left in the game the Buckeyes began playing their kind of basketball again. Sullinger no longer tried to force a poor shot after holding the ball for too long. Instead, he began to choose to shoot or pass more on instinct, demonstrating good decision making ability. With the offense finally clicking again, the Buckeyes began to find their confidence.
It wasn’t to last though. Kansas stepped up the pressure on defense and the intensity on offense and brought the game back, even managing to pick up their first lead in the game since scoring the opening basket. Down one at 56-55, the Buckeyes were desperate for anything to go their way. Deshaun Thomas made an excellent effort to get to the free throw line and retake the lead, which was closely followed by a great steal and layup from Aaron Craft to give the Bucks some breathing room.
Kansas dug deep and found their legs again, scoring several unanswered points to take their largest lead of the game at three with a minute left in the game. Despite a tough effort, the Buckeyes were only able to shorten the lead to one with 9 seconds left and were forced to give up their 10th foul. Kansas dropped both free throws, forcing the Buckeyes to try for a three point play, but Kansas fouled them to prevent the possibility.
The Buckeyes shot 20-59 (33.9%) from the floor and 8-22 (36.4%) from three after shooting 4/8 in the early going. Kansas shot 25-56 (44.6%) and 3-11 (27.3%) respectively. The key stat to the game was the rebounding effort from the Jayhawks who picked up 42 to OSU’s 30.