This was a heartbreaker for the Buckeyes, who came in as co-Big Ten champions and a slight favorite in a game — a rematch of a 78-67 Kansas win back in December when Ohio State’s All-American, Jared Sullinger, was not available.
Sullinger was there a-plenty Saturday night, but he struggled. He finished with 11 points on 5-for-19 shooting, no fewer than three of them blocked by Jeff Withey, the Kansas center who finished with seven swats. Sullinger also had 11 rebounds and 3 blocks, but the sophomore who gave up NBA lottery money to return and win a championship will go without for at least another year.
When the buzzer sounded, he plopped at midcourt, clearly pooped — and maybe wondering how his team let this game slip away.
“These guys got tears in their eyes, blank stares on their faces,” Sullinger said. “It’s tough on me.”
Ohio State-Kansas was billed as “The Other Game” of this Final Four — garnering much less ink than the Kentucky-Louisville blood feud that preceded it — and started off looking like every bit the undercard.
The Buckeyes built an early 13-point lead on the strength of the shooting of William Buford, who came out of a 13-for-44 tournament slump to lead the Buckeyes with 19 points on 6 for 10 from the floor. Kansas trailed 34-25 at the half and only a steal and layup before the buzzer prevented the Jayhawks from a season-low.
Things changed when Ohio State came out and promptly missed its first 10 shots from the field, while Deshaun Thomas — the Ohio State big man in charge of shutting down Robinson — headed to the bench with his third foul.
That opened things up for KU: A couple easy layups for Robinson and a kick-out to Elijah Johnson for a 3-pointer were part of a 13-4 run to open the half. It tied the game at 38 and set up for a nip-and-tuck finish between these No. 2 seeds, each of which were in the hunt for top seeding all the way up to Selection Sunday.
Releford finished with 15 points and six rebounds for the Jayhawks. Johnson had 13 points and 10 boards. Taylor finished with 10 points and nine assists — not bad considering the time Craft spent glued to him much of the night.
Craft said he thought a quick brick and a rebound on the final free throw was his best chance to save the game. There wasn’t much of an argument after he got called for the lane violation, however.
“There is no explanation,” Craft said. “Apparently I crossed before it hit the rim. I just knew I had to miss it. I thought that would be the best way for us to get the ball back.”
That end-game was set up when Releford made two free throws with 1:37 left to put KU ahead 60-59. Buford tried to take the ball to the basket on the next possession, but Withey swatted it away. Johnson followed with a layup — hardly as dramatic as his game-winner against Purdue, but enough for a three-point lead, which seemed like a million for the Jayhawks in this one.
Not that the Jayhawks need a big lead — or any lead.
”I think we’re trying to make it fun for y’all,” Robinson said. “Seriously, I wish it would stop. I mean, I’d feel better at the end.”