Fifth-ranked Ohio State earned its third win over a Top 25 opponent, beating No. 6 Kentucky 71-65 on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Defense has been the Buckeyes' calling card all season. Entering Saturday, opposing teams had shot just 34.6 percent against OSU, the second-lowest percentage in Division I. Villanova and North Carolina scored 51 and 49 points, respectively, when matched up with Ohio State earlier in the year.
That suffocating defense claimed another victim, as Kentucky shot 42.4 percent from the floor but went 7-of-23 from beyond the arc.
Ohio State was unable to pull away despite its excellent defensive effort. CJ Walker finally iced the game with a three-pointer as the shot clock expired with 26.6 seconds remaining.
- Kaleb Wesson, F, Ohio State: 12 points, eight rebounds, two assists, one block
- Kyle Young, F, Ohio State: 10 points, six rebounds, one assist, one steal, one block
- Nate Sestina, F, Kentucky: 17 points, four rebounds, one assist
- Tyrese Maxey, G, Kentucky: 15 points, six rebounds, three assists, one steal
- Ashton Hagans, G, Kentucky: 14 points, one rebound, nine assists, three steals
Ohio State Outmuscles Kentucky with Physical Approach
Ohio State hit 19 combined three-pointers in those aforementioned wins over Villanova and North Carolina. The Buckeyes entered Saturday having connected on 41.6 percent of their long-range attempts.
They struggled to find their shooting stroke from three-point range against Kentucky and instead adopted a more direct route to the basket. Ohio State attacked Kentucky inside, which often resulted in either a made basket or a trip to the charity stripe.
The Buckeyes scored 26 points in the paint and got another 21 points at the foul line.
Their success in the paint went beyond scoring, too. They out-rebounded the Wildcats 33-26 and had seven blocks as a team. D.J. Carton and Andre Wesson each had an emphatic chase-down block in the second half. Taking four points off the board was important in a game as tightly contested as this one.
Kentucky didn't have much answer for Ohio State's starting frontcourt trio of the Wesson brothers and Kyle Young.
Kaleb Wesson fouled out with 3:30 left in the game and Ohio State ahead 62-56. The Wildcats couldn't take advantage of his absence and close the gap.
Sestina's Big Day Not Enough for Kentucky
Wildcats graduate transfer Nate Sestina had some experience playing against Ohio State. He was part of a Bucknell squad that lost to the Buckeyes last season. That might have provided the senior forward with a slight advantage as he came off the bench to provide a much-needed offensive spark for Kentucky.
Sestina was the only real perimeter threat for John Calipari on Saturday.
In addition to its poor shooting, Kentucky's foul trouble doomed it to a defeat. Sestina and Nick Richards finished with four fouls, while Tyrese Maxey fouled out.
That not only allowed Ohio State to have a decided edge in foul shooting but also hamstrung the Wildcats in terms of attempting to match the Buckeyes' physicality inside.
The Buckeyes play No. 25 West Virginia on Dec. 29 in Cleveland before their focus shifts to conference play. The Wildcats face off with in-state rival Louisville, who sit third in the AP Top 25 poll, on Dec. 28 in Lexington.