Ohio State found themselves hanging around with #9 Kansas with just over fifteen minutes to play. But the Buckeyes lost their offensive mojo in the second half, going completely cold from the field while also continuing a game long trend of poor free throw shooting. When their trademark staunch defense abandoned them, the flood gates broke giving way to a 74-66 loss to the Kansas Jayhawks.
Deshaun Thomas started his typical brilliant self and Shannon Scott made a strong case to get increased playing time in the first half as the two combined for 24 first half points. As for the second? Scott and effectively everyone not named Thomas or Amir Williams couldn't buy a basket, leading to Kansas turning a two point half time lead into an 8 point final margin. While Kansas wasn't as prolific as they'd looked in several of their previous contests, Ohio State had no answer for true freshman Ben McLemore. McLemore hit 8 of his 17 shots en route to 22 points and 6 rebounds to lead the game for both teams. Thomas would finish with 16 for the Bucks.
The Buckeyes began Saturday early evening's contest with a sloppy first possession that perhaps would be a preview of things to come. Ben McLemore followed on the ensuing possession with an easy 3, also foreshadowing how the rest of the night would play out by and large. Aaron Craft committed a rare turnover early in this one too, somewhat indicative of his asymmetrical afternoon.
Many experts and fans of both teams projected this game could turn on not only how KU big man Jeff Withey played, but whether or not Ohio State would let him eclipse them defensively. Not even five minutes into the game, Withey had 4 points, 3 boards, a block, and assist. Withey cooled off somewhat in the shot blocking department, but finished the evening with a strong 14 points and 10 rebounds. He was, however, victimized himself once by the Buckeyes' Amir Williams.
The first half was ultimately one of a number of swings. After Kansas took an 18-12 lead, the Buckeyes battled back and a Thomas three-pointer gave them their first lead of the evening, 24-23. But KU would go on to close the half strong, on the heels of 14-4 run, they'd find themselves up 37-35 at the half. Shannon Scott queued the Buckeyes' big run with a couple of emphatic defensive plays, plus some pleasantly surprising offensive prowess. He actually led the Buckeyes with 10 first half points, but was largely invisible (along with the rest of his teammates) in the second.
The Buckeyes' eFG% (an advanced metric which gives 50% greater weight to three pointers) would be just 48.3% at the half to Kansas' 63.0. OSU's sharp long distance shooting would cool considerably (as would really the rest of their offensive game) as they'd finish with a paltry 36.9% of the same metric. The Jayhawks would cool to 55%, but never quite looked as out of gas as the Buckeyes did in the second.
Aaron Craft started the second half with another turnover and stunningly had a 1:2 assists-to-turnover ratio early on in the half. He'd finish with only a 3:4 ratio, amongst his worse of the season. While Scott cooled considerably after an explosive offensive second half, it's become abundantly clear that Craft will have to settle into his bread-and-butter, defense and team first, selfless play, for the Buckeyes to hope to achieve their full potential. The two-to-three game stretch in which he looked like a potentially viable second offensive option would appear to have been but a red herring.
OSU's problems in the half-court offense would continue to be their undoing. Missing 15-of-17 shots in one stretch (including only 2 field goals in almost 13 minutes) is never a recipe for success, but against a team of top ten caliber like Kansas, it's pretty much a way to guarantee a loss. Lenzelle Smith Jr, who at times has been a competent second-to-third type scorer for the Buckeyes, shot just 3-for-13 from the field, and 0-7 from beyond the arc. The Buckeyes collectively missed 23 three pointers on the evening.
Kansas played a solid game, but didn't blow off socks as they marched to a win that was never close late. Withey wasn't anywhere near as dominant as he could've been, but the Buckeyes just couldn't hold McLemore when they needed a stop.
The question for the longest time during the first third of this basketball season has often been "who will be the Buckeyes' number two scorer?" OSU will have to answer a number of other questions about their offensive identity as they wrap up non-conference play and march towards the grind of a demanding Big Ten slate. The Buckeyes will wrap up 2012 at home against Chicago State next Saturday at 4:30 in Value City Arena.
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