Offense Struggles As Buckeyes Fall Short

Ohio State put itself into position to win its Final Four matchup with Kansas on Saturday night, but in the end the Buckeyes just couldn't hit enough shots. That was especially true in the second half, and the team's two big guns in the frontcourt were kept under wraps.

The saying goes that numbers don't lie, and in the end, there was a string of them that had to leave Ohio State ruing its Final Four loss to Kansas on Saturday night.

8 of 33. 5 of 19. 3 of 14.

Those six numbers might have made for a good Mega Millions ticket a couple of days ago, but for the Buckeyes, they told the story of why the team left the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in shock.

As a team, Ohio State made just 8 of 33 shots – a disappointing 24.2 percent, worse than OSU's shooting percentage in an ugly home loss to Michigan State earlier this season – in the second half and came up empty on the first 10 attempts of the stanza. First-team All-America forward Jared Sullinger struggled with Kansas' height all night, finishing 5 for 19 from the floor. DeShaun Thomas, the forward whose emergence spurred the Buckeyes' surprising postseason run, made just 3 of 14 shots.

8 of 33. 5 of 19. 3 of 14. v Add it all up, and the Buckeyes fell two points shy of the Jayhawks.

"Second half obviously we didn't shoot the ball to the level we needed," OSU head coach Thad Matta said after the game. "I thought Kansas was much more actively defensively, using their athleticism. Our execution wasn't as good. We didn't get as clean of looks as we needed."

There were a variety of reasons why things didn't quite go Ohio State's way, starting with the performance of Kansas center Jeff Withey. The junior blocked seven shots and affected countless others, keeping Ohio State's guards from getting to the basket and helping coax a 4-for-11 night out of Aaron Craft.

He notched his first block on the Buckeyes' opening possession, swatted three straight OSU shots early in the second half and then rejected two straight in the last two minutes with the game on the line.

"My teammates definitely look at me as a protector," Withey said. "They know if they get beat, I'm there. I'm there to help them block shots."

Four of his blocks came on Sullinger, the man he kept under wraps for large portions of the game. A number of times, Sullinger clearly struggled with Withey's size, taking fall-away shots or resorting to a string of pump fakes and hesitation moves that the Kansas center largely didn't fall for.

As the game went on, the Jayhawks also effectively sent a double team Sullinger's way, and the ball didn't come out very often as the big man struggled to a 2 for 11 half.

"It was just the simple fact that they crowded the floor on me and I couldn't create space off of him because every time I tried to dribble or make a move, there was a guard coming, stepping down, trying to rake the ball out," Sullinger said. "In the second half, the big double (team) with Thomas Robinson coming over, it was just tough."

Thomas also had one of his worst shooting days as a Buckeye while also battling foul trouble and a late ankle injury.

"I don't understand it," he said. "I shot it well in practice and I shot it well in shootaround, and they were good misses. I just don't understand why they couldn't fall. Every player goes through that, and I tried to do the other things to win the ballgame."

Thomas did have the makings of a point as some of his misses were simply open looks that didn't fall for whatever reason. But he also appeared to force a few shots, including a three-pointer from the right wing with a man all over him in the dying seconds and the Buckeyes trailing by three.

His struggles seriously affected an Ohio State offense that had come to depend on him in recent weeks, as he entered the game averaging 21.8 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. His length and athleticism troubled previous opponents, and even on an off shooting night, it became clear the Buckeyes weren't quite sure how to operate the offense without Thomas on the court when he missed a good chunk of the second half in foul trouble.

"I think the type of team that we have, we feed off each other, and when you see one guy not really connected or feeling down on themselves, you start to worry about that guy," guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said. "It kind of takes your mind off of the game as a whole. You try to pick people up on the run but it's tough."

Smith, a burgeoning offensive threat in the NCAA tournament, made 2 of 5 threes but missed some big second-half shots, while the one person the OSU offense who did connect was senior William Buford. The Toledo native closed his career 6 of 10 from the floor and a team-high 19 points, but it wasn't enough without help.

"I obviously didn't do enough," he said. "We lost."

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