COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Moments after No. 7 Ohio State’s 74-66 loss to ninth-ranked Kansas on Saturday night, coach Thad Matta was asked about his team’s awful shooting.
He answered by making a crack that was closer to gallows humor.
“I asked Santa for Christmas to improve our jump shooting,” he said.
Maybe he’ll get that gift. But it sure didn’t arrive early.
The Buckeyes misfired again and again — occasionally when they were unguarded, standing wide open on the perimeter — in losing to the Jayhawks (10-1).
Ohio State shot just 31 percent (20 of 65 from the field) for the game, losing despite getting 16 more attempts. In the second half, with the game on the line, the Buckeyes made only 9 of 36 shots (25 percent), including a critical 10-minute span in which they didn’t have a field goal.
Kansas plays good defense. On this night, it was hard to determine how much of the misfires were attributable to the Jayhawks’ defense and how much to an Ohio State team that has had difficulty making shots all season.
“(Kansas) didn’t really do anything special,” said Deshaun Thomas, who led the Buckeyes with 16 points on 4-of-11 shooting. “We didn’t make shots. We had great shots at the basket.”
Thomas, Shannon Scott (who had a career-high 15 points) and point guard Aaron Craft were asked if the Buckeyes had ever had a span in a practice or a game in which they had so much difficulty making a simple field goal.
“Not really,” said Craft, who was 2 for 9 shooting.
The Buckeyes (9-2) ran off a 14-0 spurt in the first half against the Jayhawks to turn a six-point deficit into an eight-point lead. They did it by getting points in transition, forcing turnovers that led to layups and making the shots that they did get.
“They weren’t getting back on defense,” Scott said. “We hurried down and we got some easy layups. The second half they started getting back on us, so it was hard to get layups.”
Everything was harder in the second half, it seemed.
“There was one point in the second half where I turned to the bench and I said, `Hey, let’s call a play where we score,'” Matta said.
Thomas’ 3-pointer with 18:25 left gave Ohio State a 40-37 lead. The Buckeyes’ next basket — Amir Williams’ bucket inside off a Thomas assist at the 8:15 mark — cut the Kansas lead to 53-50.
In 19 possessions, they were 0 for 12 from the field with two turnovers, scoring eight points on foul shots.
Ahead 56-52 with 7 minutes left, Kansas pulled away thanks to its brilliant leading scorer. Redshirt freshman Ben McLemore hit a pair of foul shots and then flipped in a 15-foot jumper that bounced not once, not twice, but three times before falling through. Off an inbounds pass, McLemore then came off a back pick and dunked to push the lead to 62-52 with 5 minutes left.
The Buckeyes never got closer than six points again.
“We knew we had to play obviously better than we did tonight,” Matta said.
Sam Thompson was 3 for 10 and one of those buckets was a layup. Evan Ravenel went 0 for 2, Lenzelle Smith Jr. made just 3 of 13 shots, Scott was 5 of 12, LaQuinton Ross 1 of 5 and Amir Williams 2 of 3.
Almost half of the Buckeyes’ shots were behind the arc, too. They made 8 of 31 3-pointers (26 percent), meaning they were only 12 of 34 closer in (35 percent).
“We knew they were going to shoot 3s, we didn’t know they were going to shoot that many,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “They became a jump-shooting team, and that helped us.”
Now the Buckeyes have one more tuneup before opening Big Ten play on Jan. 2 at home against Nebraska.
Craft was asked what he had learned about his team against Kansas.
“We came out battling. We didn’t really back down,” he said. “The worst thing we can do is to overcomplicate things and try to look for secrets and easy shortcuts. It comes down to getting tough, getting the stops when we need to and making shots when we need to. They did that tonight, and we didn’t.”