Ohio State’s magical run to the NCAA Final Four came to an abrupt and unfulfilling end Saturday night in New Orleans.
Jared Sullinger vs. Kansas
The Buckeyes blew a 13-point first-half lead and dropped a 64-62 decision to Kansas before a crowd of 73,361 Saturday night at the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
Ohio State led by as many as 13 on five occasions in the first half before settling for a 34-25 halftime lead. But Kansas surged right back to tie the game early in the second half and eventually went ahead in the closing minutes. The Buckeyes were their own worst enemy as they shot a wretched 24.2 percent (8 of 33) in the second half, opening the door wide open for the Kansas comeback.
“It wasn’t a pretty game, not artistic at all,” said Kansas coach Bill Self, whose Jayhawks advance to play No. 1 Kentucky in Monday’s national title game. “But I’m so proud of our guys’ toughness. Ohio State is obviously terrific. Our guys have been in a lot of close games, so they have so much confidence. They just stepped up and made plays.”
OSU still seemed in good shape up 59-56 after Aaron Craft stole a Kansas pass and scored with 2:22 left. But OSU’s next two possessions were doomed as Kansas’ 7-foot center Jeff Withey blocked layup attempts by Craft and William Buford.
Those lapses allowed Kansas to score six straight points – coming on a layup by Tyshawn Taylor, two free throws from Travis Releford and layup by Elijah Johnson – to go up 62-59 with 1:13 left.
OSU’s Buford scored on a rebound with 9.6 seconds left. Taylor then made a pair of free throws for a 64-61 lead with 8.3 seconds left. Craft was eventually fouled with 2.9 seconds left. He made the first free throw and intentionally missed the second, but was whistled for a lane violation for trying to rebound the miss too quickly.
The stunned Buckeyes, out of timeouts by this point, did not even contest the ensuing inbounds play and Kansas had pulled off a stunning win.
“Down the stretch as this tournament goes, it comes down to making some plays,” said OSU coach Thad Matta. “Give them credit, they did a good job of finishing some plays. We had some great shots that just didn’t go in for us.”
Thomas Robinson had 19 points and eight rebounds to lead Kansas (32-6). Releford had 15, Johnson had 13 points and 10 rebounds and Taylor had 10 points and nine assists. Withey only had four points, but his fingerprints were all over this win with eight rebounds and seven blocked shots.
Buford, playing his last game as OSU’s lone senior, had 19 points for the Buckeyes (31-8). Buford was 6 of 10 from the floor, including 3 of 5 on three-pointers.
“I obviously didn’t do enough because we lost,” Buford said. “I don’t feel good at all. I followed through on my shots and the majority of them were going in.”
Unfortunately, the rest of the OSU squad was a woeful 28.6 percent (14 of 49) from the floor.
“We were up by nine at halftime,” Craft said. “I don’t think we let up or took them for granted. They just played better basketball. They were blocking our shots. Then they got out in transition and got some easy buckets.”
Jared Sullinger had 13 points and 11 rebounds for OSU, although he was just 5 of 19 from the floor.
Craft had 11 points and Lenzelle Smith Jr. scored 10. Deshaun Thomas, the darling of the tournament for the Buckeyes, dealt with foul problems and finished with nine points. He was 3 of 14 from the floor, including 1 of 7 on threes.
“I tried not to let (the foul issues) get to me,” Thomas said. “I think I took good shots. It was just one of those days. The ball wasn’t rolling your way and the referees weren’t calling it like you’d like. The shots were going in and out. They just wouldn’t fall.”
Whether this will be Sullinger or Thomas’ last game at Ohio State remains to be seen. They each indicated they would take the next week to talk with Matta and their family members before deciding their future plans.
Craft said he remains proud of his team for the things they accomplished this season.
“There is some disappointment, but we can’t be too down,” he said. “I don’t think anybody had us accomplishing what we accomplished this year, especially midway through the year. I’m proud of my guys for sticking together. We came through when we needed to.”
Buford had eight points and Sullinger and Smith each had seven in the first half for Ohio State. The Buckeyes connected on 5 of 10 three-point shots, while the Jayhawks could not find the range. KU shot 36.7 percent from the floor (11 of 30), including 1 of 6 on threes.
After KU’s Robinson scored the game’s first two points, OSU reeled off seven straight. Smith started it with a three off a crosscourt pass from Sullinger. Sullinger then made a turnaround shot over KU’s 7-foot Jeff Withey. Buford then stepped in and hit a 15-footer.
The lead went to six as Craft splashed a wide open three from the right wing and then hit Sullinger with a perfect bounce pass on a pick-and-roll for a layup and a 12-6 lead with 13:04 left in the half.
Sam Thompson found Buford for a three that made it 16-9. After KU’s Releford drove for a layup, Buford splashed another three off a Craft assist to make it 19-11 with 9:17 left.
Thomas had missed his first four shots of the game, but he came alive with a three from the top of the key. Sullinger followed that with a rebound basket to make it 26-13 with 6:12 left in the half. The teams traded scores, but OSU still led by 13 at 34-21 after Smith made a pair of free throws with 42 seconds left in the half.
KU’s Taylor was fouled and hit a pair of free throws. Craft then tried to drive late in the clock, but Withey deflected the shot and Taylor got a breakaway layup at the buzzer to trim OSU’s halftime lead to nine at 34-25.
Kansas went on a 13-4 run to start the second half and tie the game at 38-38 on a layup by Elijah Johnson with 14:05 left in the game. The Buckeyes missed their first 10 shots from the floor in the second half until Craft hit a three from the left wing to make it 41-38 with 13:04 left. Sullinger followed with a tip-in for a 43-38 lead with 12:30 left.
A three by Smith made it 46-40 with 11:09 left. A Buford three kept the lead at 49-43 with 8:36 left. Kansas rallied behind a three by Connor Teahan and a steal and layup by Taylor to cut it to 49-48 with 7:54 left.
Sullinger hit a turning bank shot over Withey. Withey then missed inside and Smith corralled the rebound. He got it ahead to Buford, whose dunk made it 53-48 with 6:04 left. A pair of Sullinger free throws made it 55-49 with 5:22 left. But Kansas came right back with a Robinson hook, a layup by Johnson and Robinson made 1 of 2 free throws to cut it to 55-54 with 3:51 left.
The Buckeyes then missed a pair of shots before Sullinger fouled Releford on a shot attempt with 2:48 left. His two free throws gave Kansas its first lead since it was 2-0.
Thomas was fouled on a drive with 2:37 left. He made a pair of free throws for a 57-56 OSU lead.
Craft then timed a Releford pass and stole it for a layup and a 59-56 lead with 2:22 left.
Taylor drove for a layup with Sullinger all over him to make it 59-58. Craft then had his shot blocked by Withey on a drive. Releford was fouled on a drive with 1:37 left. His two free throws put Kansas up 60-59.
Buford then tried to take the ball to the basket, but Withey blocked it from behind to Johnson. He streaked coast-to-coast for a layup and a 62-59 KU lead with 1:13 left.
OSU called timeout with 1:04 left. But Buford and Thomas mishandled an exchange and Robinson stole it for Kansas. The Jayhawks held for a shot, but Withey was whistled for traveling prior to what would have been a game-clinching dunk with 27.4 seconds left.
At OSU’s end, Thomas missed a pair of shots but Buford dunked the second miss to cut the Kansas lead to 62-61 with 9.6 seconds left. OSU called a timeout to set its defense.
Taylor was fouled on the inbounds play with 8.3 seconds left. His two free throws made it 64-61. Craft was then fouled with 2.9 seconds left. He made the first one and then missed the second one on purpose. He tried to rebound the miss himself, but was whistled for a lane violation.
The Buckeyes were so stunned by the call they allowed Kansas to inbound the ball without any pressure and the Jayhawks ran the rest of the time out.
“For the majority of the second half, I thought we were taking good shots,” Buford said. “We just weren’t able to knock them down. They were thriving off that and getting momentum off of our misses. They were more aggressive and seemed like they wanted it more in the second half.”
* The crowd figure for the national semifinal games was the second-largest for any NCAA Tournament session in history. The record of 75,421 was set for last year at Houston’s Reliant Stadium.
* This was the 34th time in 37 games this season and 68th time in 74 career games Sullinger has scored in double figures. It was also Sullinger’s 17th double-double this year and the 35th in his career.
* Thomas came into the game averaging 21.8 points in OSU’s previous four NCAA games. But he was held in single digits for just the fifth time in 39 games this season.
* With 19 points, Buford ends his career with 1,990 points. That ties him with Jerry Lucas for third place on the school’s career scoring list.
* This was the third time this year OSU had squandered a double-digit lead and lost. It also happened in road losses at Indiana and Illinois.
* This was Ohio State’s 28th NCAA Tournament appearance. OSU is now 50-27 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, including 11 Final Four appearances and the 1960 national championship. (OSU’s 1999 Final Four trip, included in that total, was officially vacated due to NCAA sanctions.)
* This was OSU’s sixth NCAA trip in seven seasons under Matta. Under Matta, OSU is now 14-6 in NCAA Tournament games. Matta guided the 2007 OSU team to the national championship game before it lost to defending national champion Florida. His overall record as a college coach in the NCAA is 20-10.
* This is OSU’s second Final Four bid in six years under Matta. Ohio State is now 5-6 all-time in national semifinal games.
That record includes previous wins over Villanova in 1939, NYU in 1960, St. Joseph’s in 1961, Wake Forest in 1962 and Georgetown in 2007. It also includes losses to Dartmouth in 1944, NYU in 1945, North Carolina in 1946, North Carolina in 1968 and Connecticut in 1999.
* In terms of rankings, Kentucky ended the regular season as the No. 1 team in the AP rankings. Kansas was sixth, Ohio State seventh and Louisville 17th.
OSU ends up 8-7 this season against ranked teams and 39-43 in eight seasons under Matta. This year, OSU has previous wins over Florida, Duke, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Michigan and Syracuse and losses to Kansas (twice), Indiana, Michigan State (twice), Michigan and Wisconsin.
* OSU’s 31-win total is the third-most in a season in school history. The record is 35 in 2006-07, followed by 34 last year and 29 previously in 2009-10.
* Kansas now leads the all-time series with Ohio State 7-3, including a 78-67 win in Lawrence on Dec. 10. That was the teams’ first meeting since Kansas swept a home-and-home series with the Buckeyes in 1999-2000. The teams are scheduled to play again next season in Columbus.
* Kansas advances to Monday’s national championship game against Kentucky (9:17 p.m., CBS).
* Click here for the box score.
Click [link url=" http://ohiostate.247sports.com/Article/What-We-Learned-Kansas-64-OSU-62-68235"]here[/link] for Dave Biddle’s What We Learned column.
Here are postgame videos with the interviews with Thad Matta, Jared Sullinger, William Buford, Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas:
Postgame Press Conference
Here is a transcript of OSU’s postgame press conference with Matta, Buford and Sullinger:
COACH MATTA: Well, I thought we played the first half very effectively. Second half obviously we didn't shoot the ball to the level we needed to. I thought Kansas was much more active defensively, using their athleticism. Our execution wasn't as good. We didn't get as clean of looks as we needed.
Down the stretch as this tournament goes, it comes down to making some plays. Give them credit, they did a great job of finishing where we had the ball, had some great shots, and wasn't able to go in for us.
Q. Thad, the Cincinnati game, very similar to this. What was it about this team that seemed like they couldn't put people away when they had a big lead?
COACH MATTA: Well, I think a lot of it was who we were playing. Give Kansas credit, they were fighting for their lives. Their season was on the line. You know, like I said, we just didn't have the edge that we knew where they were going to start the second half. You know, we couldn't get it done.
Q. Thad, we heard you were hurt.
COACH MATTA: Cord caught my foot. I'm all right. Thank you for asking.
Q. Jared, this is what you came back for. William, your shots were going down. Talk about your thoughts on how this all unfolded.
JARED SULLINGER: I mean we can't blame it on anything. We had a great season. We had a lot of doubters this season. Nobody expected us to get this far. Real proud of the guys for helping me get to the Final Four my last year.
I had a great time at Ohio State my four years.
WILLIAM BUFORD: It hurts. But, at the same time, if you look at this team a month ago, people like y'all said we wasn't good enough to get here, so...
I'm proud of these guys and everything they overcome.
Q. It looked like defensively you had a tough time, you were double?teamed a lot. Looked like you really had trouble.
JARED SULLINGER: I wasn't expecting Kansas to double, to be totally honest with you. A couple times it caught me off guard.
I mean, it is what it is. We had a chance to control that game, and we slipped on our opportunity.
Q. Could you talk about you just mentioned the effect of the double?teams in the second half that you weren't expecting. How much more of a presence was Jeff around the basket, especially when he was on you in the second half?
JARED SULLINGER: He was just playing hard. Seemed like he stepped up his defensive intensity. I mean, like I said, it is what it is. We had a chance to control the game, but we didn't. But you also got to give all the credit to Kansas. They came out and played hard in the second half. They just wanted it more, it seemed like.
Q. Thad, what happened in the last three seconds? Kansas inbounded, there was no foul. What happened in there?
COACH MATTA: You know, I'm not exactly sure. It went quick. We weren't set to where we needed to be. You know, they quick inbounded on us and we didn't have it.
Q. Thad, you mentioned maybe not having just that edge in the second half. We've seen your team this year when you've had it, seen some games when you don't have it. Can you see it coming when you don't have it? What can you do to try to find it again?
COACH MATTA: Well, I think the biggest thing for us tonight was our inability to make shots in the second half. You know, Deshaun only playing 23 minutes tonight hurt us because they were able to sit Withey down there and allowed him to double?team. The game plan going in was we were going to have to spread him out and give him time to work, but also Deshaun the opportunity to stretch the defense.
That was probably the biggest advantage I think that they had on us. You know, our inability to put the ball in the basket there was something that enabled them to gather momentum and get themselves going.
Q. Jared just said he was surprised by how much they double?teamed him. Were you surprised?
COACH MATTA: Well, no, I wasn't surprised. Like I said, when Deshaun wasn't in there, they were able to sit the guys on him. You know, that was probably ?? you know, we tried to mirror. We needed a stretcher out there at that position. That just enabled them. It forced our hand a little bit.
Q. Thad, could you talk about is there a harder play in basketball than the intentionally missed free throw, trying to get the putt?back? How often are you able to practice that?
COACH MATTA: You don't really practice it a ton. I thought Aaron made a great read on it. You know, the way it happened there, he actually made the shot when it came off of there.
Q. Jared, last year after the Kentucky game in New Jersey, you gave us a definitive announcement on what your future would be, you were coming back next season. Can you do the same tonight and give us a definitive answer on where you're going to be playing next year?
JARED SULLINGER: I honestly don't know. That's something I'm going to take up with coach and just talk it over with him and talk it over with my family.
I really don't know my decision yet.
Q. In your wildest dreams, you lose by 2, Craft, Sullinger and Deshaun combine to go 12 of 44. You're probably talking about this in a different light. Could you ever imagined all three having off nights like that?
COACH MATTA: If you look at our loses this year, the way Jared and Deshaun have been shooting, eight for 33, you know, like you said, we needed one more guy to kind to put the ball in the basket. I thought we had some second looks, they just didn't go down. You shoot 24% in the second half against a really good team, it's going to be hard to win it.
Q. Thad, when you're in a position to win a game like this and you don't, does it make it harder or do you still look back and say we had a heck of a run to be in this position?
COACH MATTA: Well, you know, I think it takes time because what you enjoy the most about coaching is the kids. You know, what this basketball team has been able to accomplish, I'm extremely proud. I didn't want the season to come to an end because I wanted to come back and watch film tonight and go to practice tomorrow and play another game with them. Because watching these guys come together and all the great basketball they've played throughout the course of the season, all the great wins they've been a part of, the whole locker room, they're special kids. That's probably the hardest part.
By the same token, it's a tough job. It's a tough profession. I think you have to look and say, Hey, there's a lot of things accomplished this year, but tonight is probably not the night I'm going to do it.
Q. Every game in the tournament you had at least one player come off the bench and give you something big. Tonight you didn't. Talk about that. They didn't even take a shot, any of the reserves.
COACH MATTA: Yeah, but I thought Sam with three blocked shots did a very, very good job for us. The first half, even the second half, we burned some timeouts. We were kind of riding the guys and felt like they had a pretty good feel for what was going on out there.
Q. Obviously it's the last game of Will's career. Talk about his play tonight, what he's meant for this program over the four years.
COACH MATTA: Well, William has ?? I don't know if I can put into words what he's meant to this program. Just watching his maturity, watching him grow as a person, watching him grow as a player. I don't know how many wins he ended up with in four years, but I know it was a lot.
I'm proud of him. I'm happy for him. He's helped us build this basketball program into something special.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about Withey's development.
COACH MATTA: No question about that. Just his size and presence. He's good enough in the post that he commands a man and a half down there with his size. He really, really complements what they've got out there. He seems to really know his role and take great pride in it, both offensively and defensively.
They were able to move Robinson around a little bit tonight on the perimeter. Withey, you got to be aware of where he is on the floor at all times. They're running their four out. It takes an extra man back there or half a man to guard him.
Q. As you guys sit up here and take a look at the box score, what causes you the biggest reason to shake your heads?
WILLIAM BUFORD: Probably the way we shot the ball. We usually don't shoot this bad in the second half. That's kind of mind?boggling a little bit.
JARED SULLINGER: Obviously me going 5 for 19. I mean, that's not a normal shooting day for me. But sometimes it happens. The ball rolls that way. Just them out?rebounding us. It was 42?30 on the glass. That's the way the ball rolls. We still had a chance to win this game. We just didn't execute.
Like I say, you got to give all the credit to Kansas. They came out and they played hard, they never gave up. I mean, it was a great game.
Q. When you look at Kansas' roster, you talked about youth all year long. Everybody that played for Kansas tonight was a junior or a senior. You had one junior and one senior with a bunch of sophomores and freshmen. How much do you think maybe that played into losing the lead in the second half?
COACH MATTA: Well, I think if you look at Kansas' run through the NCAA tournament, their experience has helped them. I know those guys didn't maybe play a ton of minutes, per se, last year, all of them. But that experience is something that just being in the arenas, being in the practices, being in the film sessions, that I think is very advantageous to have that group of guys that have been in there and fought the fights.
Experience does make a difference in this tournament, there's no question about it.
Q. Jared did you feel like yourself out there with Withey guarding you?
JARED SULLINGER: I mean, I had the shots. They just weren't falling. I mean, sure, why not? I was myself. I mean, who else could I be?