There are cold streaks and then there’s what transpired with the Ohio State men’s basketball team against Kansas Saturday.
Trailing by two at halftime, the No. 7 Buckeyes misfired their way out of contention, shooting just 25 percent from the field and 11 percent from the 3-point line in the second half, including a stretch of more than 10 minutes in which they didn’t make a field goal.
“I asked Santa for Christmas to improve our jump shooting,” a frustrated Thad Matta said after the game.
The result was a 74-66 loss to the No. 9 Jayhawks, the second defeat of the young season for OSU.
The frigidity of the Buckeyes shooting did not affect Kansas’ Ben McLemore, who many project to be a lottery pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.
The Jayhawks’ star redshirt freshman described by Matta as “as good as any player in the country” scored 22 points and was one of four Jayhawks to reach double figures.
When a jump shot from junior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. ended another extended Buckeye dry spell in the game’s closing minutes, the sold-out crowd at the Schottenstein Center let out a sarcastic cheer that was more a release of frustration than a celebration.
OSU, ranked the No. 4 team in the country before the season, has now lost both of its major non-conference tests, the first being a 73-68 defeat at Duke, leaving some to question how good the Buckeyes really are.
With a consistent second scoring option behind junior forward Deshaun Thomas yet to emerge, Duke and Kansas focused their defense on Thomas and dared another Buckeye to score.
“It was probably a good matchup for us to be able to put a guard on (Thomas) and then we doubled him on the post with Jeff (Withey),” said Kansas coach Bill Self.
Thomas still led OSU in scoring with 16 points, but with Smith, junior guard Aaron Craft and sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross combining to shoot 6-27 from the floor for 17 points, Kansas was never forced to make an adjustment.
“They were doubling (Thomas) 16 feet from the basket,” Matta said. “When that happens you got to break the dam by knocking some shots down so it makes them think, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t do that.'”
A bright spot for the Buckeyes was Shannon Scott, who finished with a career high 15 points and added four assists.
Scott entered the game with OSU trailing 11-6 early in the first half and immediately sparked his team.
The sophomore guard drove to his right past two defenders and laid in a tough shot off the glass. He then stole the ensuing inbounds pass and was fouled going to the rim, making one of two free throws.
Later in the half, Scott scored seven points in a 14-0 Buckeye run that saw the home team take its first lead of the game, 31-23.
“I just wanted to come in there and push the pace,” said Scott. “They weren’t getting back on defense at first so I was able to come in there and do that, get easy layups for myself and my teammates.”
OSU overcame a two-point halftime deficit to knot up the score at 45 with 13:31 left in the game.
The crowd rose to its feet, but that’s when the Buckeyes, who shot 46 percent from behind the arc in the first half, started their shooting hibernation.
OSU struggled to get to the rim and settled for 18 3-pointers in the second half, only making two.
When sophomore forward Amir Williams banked in a layup with 8:14 left on the clock, it was OSU’s first made basket in more than 10 minutes.
“There was one point in the second half where I turned to the bench and said, ‘Hey let’s call a play where we score,'” Matta said.
The Jayhawks shot only two deep balls in the second half, instead forcing their way inside where they scored a total of 34 points compared to OSU’s 22.
Of the eight Buckeyes to enter the game, only Williams – he was 2-3 from the field – shot better than 45 percent.
“We had great looks, wide open looks. I trust my teammates,” Thomas said. “When they had good looks and they didn’t knock them down, I told them to keep shooting. They just weren’t falling.”
The Buckeyes will hope their shooting improves before Big Ten play, which begins Jan. 2 against Nebraska, and will have three days off before preparing for their non-conference finale against Chicago State next Saturday.
OSU’s record now stands at 9-2, but despite the pair of losses, the team maintains that teams like Kansas prepare their squad for challenges down the road.
“We have two losses on the year,” Craft said. “Kansas and Duke are two of the best teams in the country. That’s not an excuse, we’re not backing down. We want to play teams like this and going into Big Ten season we have to know every game is going to be like this.”