It was a game of defense, and in the second half of this Final Four matchup, Kansas took their best to Ohio State. The Jayhawks secured a tight victory over Ohio State on Saturday night 64-62 for their right to play Kentucky in the national championship game on Monday.
The Buckeyes forced guard Aaron Craft to become a shot maker, which is not the role Craft is most comfortable with in the Ohio State offense. The result was a number of wild shots that Craft threw up with little chance of going in, wasting offensive possessions, and creating nothing but poor point production. This was reflected in both Crafts going 4 of 11 from the field and the Buckeyes stagnant offensive flow.
Jared Sullinger is the usual Buckeye solution when Ohio State is in need of points, but not on Saturday. Sullinger struggled on offense for only 13 points on 5 of 19 shooting. Clearly, these are not the dominant numbers Ohio State is used to seeing from their go-to-guy in the paint. The truth is, Sullinger struggled in the paint, an area Kansas owned all evening.
It was the Jayhawks that were physical underneath, grabbing offensive and defensive rebounds and scrambling for loose balls. Jeff Withey had the answer to Sullinger’s offensive prowess and that answer was pure size.
Withey didn’t go for head fakes, stayed on the ground and made Sullinger shoot over him. This was a situation Sullinger was unable to execute successfully and with Ohio State’s number one option unable to produce, the Buckeyes quickly found themselves struggling on the offensive end of the court.
Even with this said, it was Ohio State that lead almost the entire game, sometimes by as much as 13 points. Late in the first half, it almost looked like Ohio State was going to run away with the game, but Kansas kept finding ways to hang in there during the Buckeye runs. It was in the beginning of the second half that the Jayhawks made their move and erased the Ohio State lead, setting the tone for the rest of the game with their scrappy play.
Kansas produced points with their big man in the middle Thomas Robinson. Robinson owned the paint and went for 19 points and 8 rebounds. Balancing out the Kansas inside play was a pair of guards. Travis Releford (15 points) and Elijah Johnson (13 points) proved the perfect counter-balance to Robinson’s inside presence as Kansas’ offense finally got it together in the second half.
Robinson said it best; “It’s just been our thing all year, coming back. I don’t like doing it, but for some reason my team is pretty good when we’re down.”
With just 2:48 left in the game it was a pair of free throws from Travis Releford that gave Kansas only their second lead of the night. Then a pair of free throws from Tyshawn Taylor with just 8 seconds left on the clock gave Kansas a 64-61 lead. This was followed by Kansas intentionally fouling Craft who went 1-2 with an intentional miss on the second free throw. The only problem was Craft was called for a lane violation on his second shot, giving possession to Kansas who dribbled out the clock.
The Finals matchup is now set. It will be a clash of the titans with Kansas taking on Kentucky for the championship. Cinderella might not be in the building, but don’t blink because this will be a war of the heavyweights of NCAA men’s basketball.
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