Aaron Craft struggled from the field all night. - Streeter Lecka
Despite the best efforts of Deshaun Thomas, the Buckeyes' lack of scoring depth as expected proved to be too much for Ohio State to overcome in a losing effort.
In a game Ohio State lead by 8 at the half (in spite of foul trouble from Buckeye stars Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft), Duke fought back valiantly, chipping away at the early, surprising lead before holding on late, 73-68. A Ryan Kelly three just under the 6 minute mark gave Duke their first lead since 14:38 in the first half. Duke would effectively never look back again. Buckeye basketball fans who experienced post traumatic stress flashbacks to last year's Final Four game against Kansas, where Ohio State seemed in control for a good portion of the game only to stumble down the stretch, certainly couldn't be blamed given the circumstances.
Duke star Mason Plumlee was virtually unguardable during stretches, and the Buckeyes' interior defense once again left much to be desired the majority of the night. Plumlee would finish with 20 points and 17 rebounds. In what can also only be described as the most Duke record ever, the easy to be frustrated by (as an opposing fan) Plumlee set the school's all-time dunk record just under the 4 minute mark to give the Blue Devils a 58-54 lead.
But before Plumlee was busy putting together GIF worthy dunks, Ohio State took the first lead of the evening only to have Duke go on a 6-0 run. Buckeyes big man Evan Ravenel of all people would end the dry spell, and a smooth stroke from guard Lenzelle Smith Jr would return the early lead back to Ohio State, 7-6. It didn't take long for Aaron Craft to impact the game, drawing a charge on the other end and helping keep the momentum on Ohio State's side.
Behind a three from Craft and a three from Thomas, Ohio State would see an epic dry spell for Duke offensively take shape. Some of it was due to the excellent team defense from basically everyone on the court for Ohio State, but a good deal appeared at face value to be Duke playing with tired legs. The Blue Devils had played three games in the Bahamas over the past weekend before traveling back to North Carolina. Excuses or not, Duke at one point was shooting 4-for-12 from the field while the Buckeyes had six points on second chance basket opportunities to the Blue Devils' zero.
One of the more frustrating aspects, for all the good, besides the obvious (the foul trouble for the two Buckeye stars) was Amir Wiliams. Whether he's hampered by some kind of injury or legitimately has less of a vertical jump than Jared Sullinger, the Buckeye big would finish the game 10 rebounds (and had a reasonable number of them in the first half alone), but could've had 5-7 extra had he just gotten off the ground on some of the rebounding opportunities. It almost looked as though he was either not trying as hard as he could be, suffering from some kind of ailment. or a combination there of.
Closing the half with the same caliber of defense that dominated the first half of play (Duke's scoring drought would last more than 10 minutes at one juncture), the Buckeyes went into half time with the previously mentioned eight point lead and looked to be firmly in control of the momentum. Despite the less than normal minutes, Deshaun Thomas led the way with 8 points. LaQuinton Ross looked the best he had all season with 5, while Shannon Scott and Amir Williams joined him in combining for 11 of Ohio State's 13 points during Thomas' relegation to the bench.
Ohio State opened the half still looking reminiscent of the group that upped their game in their stars' absence with Lenzelle Smith wrapping up his scoring contributions for the evening perhaps prematurely with an early basket. But the first of several explosive Mason Plumlee dunks would return the crowd into it. Amir Williams, for all the good he did on the glass (in spite of the prior criticism), put one hand up somewhat passively on a miss during one of the ensuing possessions letting Duke get a second shot opportunity they otherwise wouldn't have had.
While Aaron Craft by all accords had had a slow start to this one offensively, after several miscues to begin the second half, that off night turned from a snowball into an avalanche. At one stretch with the Buckeyes' junior point guard just 1-of-8 shooting and with 3 turnovers, it seemed like Coach K.'s apparent strategy to focus all of the Duke attention on Thomas and let Craft shoot uncontested paid off in spades.
Duke would go on an 11-4 run and with two additional Craft misses and with a Seth Curry bank, the score was suddenly 46-44. Evan Ravenel would put gum on the dam with a put back several possessions later to keep the Buckeye lead around 3-ish, 53-50, but with Duke soon on the heels of a 10-2 run, there wasn't much Ohio State could do except get out of the way.
The second half offensive distribution will surely leave Ohio State fans second guessing the proceedings for weeks to come. With Craft a non-factor, and Duke's Ryan Kelly having had success guarding Thomas with Mason Plumlee assisting him, Ohio State went away from Thomas altogether. As had been widely speculated going into this one, without a clearly defined apparent second option (and with Craft absent in that department), there just wasn't anything Ohio State could do to match what Duke was doing on their respective offensive end of things.
And despite going into the half with zero points, all-everything freshman swing guard Rasheed Sulaimon showed why he was so highly touted coming out of high school in the second half. Even Buckeyes junior defensive stopper Lenzelle Smith Jr. looked outclassed at one stretch trying to match the explosive young guard. Sulaimon hit a turning point 3 which would add to the Duke barrage that helped them reclaim the lead (and ultimately win the game), and naturally he had a break away dunk late to effectively nip in the bud any chance of an Ohio State comeback.
The Buckeyes got things down to four with under a minute to play, but an errant Shannon Scott dribble over his knee would quell any chance for a rally. Matta would say after the game that Scott was tired down the stretch from having played so many minutes. He (and the Buckeyes' evidently variable depth wise bench) would be well served to do their best to simulate the scenario again in conditioning as to not allow that to become a factor again in the future.
For the Buckeyes' litany of problems, they do deserve credit in one very particular regard: they failed to quit. Duke had all the momentum in the world and could've easily wound up winning by double digits. Instead, the Buckeyes dug deep, extended the game with fouls and some makes of their own, and had a shot when things felt at their most bleak. There aren't moral victories during the long grind of college basketball, but perhaps this loss will ruminate and help make Ohio State that much more prepared when Kansas comes to town just before Christmas.
Ohio State will look to bounce back more immediately in the short term from their first loss of the season Saturday afternoon against Northern Kentucky at Value City Arena.
|,LENZELLE SMITH JR *||11||2||2||5||4||4||12||2||3||1||6||39||5|
|Mason Plumlee *||21||2||5||17||1||2||2||6||11||9||12||39||8|
|Rasheed Sulaimon *||17||4||1||2||7||12||1||2||2||4||31||4|
|Ryan Kelly *||15||3||3||1||5||5||10||2||2||3||5||29||10|
|Quinn Cook *||12||8||6||2||3||4||3||10||6||7||2||40||5|
|Seth Curry *||4||1||1||2||1||6||2||3||1||28|