The AP No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes couldn't avenge their crushing Final Four loss to the ninth-ranked Kansas Jayhawks, falling by a score of 74-66 in the friendly confines of Value City Arena.
As expected, this showdown of top-10 juggernauts was extremely entertaining and fast-paced.
Well, for one half at least, until it turned a little more sloppy and the Jayhawks defense asserted its will. The game hinged on whether the Buckeyes' perimeter-oriented attack would be destructive enough from downtown to offset the Jayhawks' advantage in the post.
After a sluggish start for the home team, guard Shannon Scott was the one who sparked the Buckeyes to a critical run in the middle of the first half, as Columbus Dispatch reporter Todd Jones documented:
Ohio State on 16-5 run since Shannon Scott entered the game. Buckeyes lead Kansas 28-23.— Todd Jones (@Todd_Jones) December 22, 2012
A stout perimeter defender who has a knack for stealing the ball and is a solid decision-maker on the offensive end, Scott helped force Kansas into four straight turnovers and led OSU with 10 points and three assists at the break.
However, the Jayhawks responded before the first half ended by shoring up on defense and pounding the ball inside, thanks largely to standout center Jeff Withey, who has to be the front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year.
This is New Orleans all over again. Kansas and Ohio State battling. You have to appreciate the heart.— Myron Medcalf (@MedcalfByESPN) December 22, 2012
Ohio State-Kansas going at it like a regional final in March. Love me some college hoop.— Tom Withers (@twithersAP) December 22, 2012
Kansas wouldn't let up from there, using the halftime momentum to their advantage to drive them to a convincing road triumph.
Jeff Borzello of CBSSports.com predicted that the Jayhawks defense wouldn't be able to handle Thomas, and that part of his pregame prognostication proved to be prophetic in a sense:
Gonna go with Ohio State over Kansas. Buckeyes need a second scorer to emerge, but I don't think Kansas can stop Thomas.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) December 22, 2012
The incredibly versatile Thomas is truly a complete offensive player who averaged over 20 points per game entering this contest.
Thomas did manage 16 points, but it wasn't enough.
As Borzello alluded to, Ohio State got next to nothing from its second and third-leading scorers in Lenzelle Smith Jr. and LaQuinton Ross. The tandem finished a combined 4-of-18 from the field and missed all 10 of their attempts from beyond the arc.
During the CBS telecast, Greg Anthony shared an interesting comment from Jayhawks head coach Bill Self, who said freshman guard Ben McLemore was the most talented first-year player he's had at Kansas.
McLemore is the team's leading scorer, and he certainly fortified Self's implication of his immense potential with a game-high 22 points.
The second half turned out to be not as high-scoring until free-throw battles at the end. Thomas scored the first six points of the second half for Ohio State, but he wasn't able to do enough to combat an untimely spell of cold shooting.
Seth Davis emphasized the Buckeyes' severe struggles as the game entered the final eight minutes:
Ohio St is 2 for 17 fg this half. As I've been saying their struggles to score in halfcourt coming to bite em. Need KU's help via turnovers.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) December 22, 2012
The Buckeyes shot just 30.8 percent for the game. OSU knew they had to hit outside shots to stay within striking distance, but simply couldn't get it done against a suffocating Kansas defense.
Despite 19 turnovers and some suspense at the end with the Jayhawks losing focus in the foul game, Kansas emerged from Columbus with the all-important "W" and a key quality win.