Kansas Jayhawks freshman guard Ben McLemore hammered home a couple high-flying dunks in their 74-66 victory over Ohio State in Columbus, but it was a fifth-year senior who produced one of the best defensive performances of the year that carried the Jayhawks to victory.
Travis Releford understood the importance of containing the Buckeyes' Deshaun Thomas, as evident from comments earlier in the week:
“[Thomas is] very important to their team,” Releford said. “They look to him to score a lot, so our goal is to make him uncomfortable and limit his shots.”
And the Kansas City native did just that, limiting Thomas to 11 total shots, forcing him to hit just 36 percent of those, which contributed to a horrific 30.8-percent team effort from Thad Matta's group.
In 38 minutes, Deshaun Thomas launched seven of Ohio State's 31 three-point shots, and the Buckeyes hit just 25.8 percent of those, part of a 25-percent field-goal clip in the second half, as Kansas built a double-digit advantage in closing out Thad Matta's 13th home loss.
Asked afterward if Releford knew Thomas was frustrated, he responded (via KUSports.com): "Of course. Not just him, but the team, the coaches, everybody on the bench."
As the second half progressed, Ohio State simply refused to penetrate inside and began tossing up deep off-balance perimeter shots, primarily because Kansas has an incredible ability to defend dunks, layups, and tip-ins.
Prior to Saturday's game, the Jayhawks were limiting teams to 43 percent shooting on those close-range attempts, including a blocked-shots percentage of 30. That number must be reiterated: Kansas is limiting opponents to a staggering 43 percent on dunks, layups and tip-ins.
That is mind-blowing.
Aside from sophomore forward Amir Williams, the Buckeyes may have surrendered a few inches inside to center Jeff Withey, but in previous games, they were able to compensate for lack of size with good shooting, as they hit 45.3 percent of their shots from the floor. Point guard Aaron Craft is the only key Buckeye shooting 44 percent for the season, making it clear that this Final Four-contending team is not a poor shooting squad by any means.
Steals and blocked shots were not the catalyst in this dominating defensive effort, as the Jayhawks only produced five total, but clunked perimeter shots for Ohio State and botched contested tip-ins resulted in quick offensive sets and transition buckets for Kansas.
The Jayhawks efficiently capitalized on only 13 forced turnovers, something that Ohio State was not able to do with its 19 forced turnovers.
Releford and Withey led the charge, but sophomore Naadir Tharpe also brought a new energy off the bench with good backside help, and Kevin Young proved he is more than mid-major talent. Young committed a couple silly fouls, including a lazy moving-screen foul a split second prior to an open lob pass to Ben McLemore, but he tied his season high with 10 rebounds, tying for the team lead with Withey.
Jayhawk fans should be excited about this victory, but particularly this defensive performance, as the supposed Big Ten bad boys of Ohio State were unable to produce any offensive flow.