Our story begins a little more than eight months ago in a distant land they call New Orleans.
Ohio State was cruising against Kansas in the first half of its Final Four matchup and appeared primed to take on the Kentucky Wildcats in the national championship game. It would be a game with notable revenge implications since John Calipari’s squad had knocked the Buckeyes out in the Sweet 16 the season prior.
And then the party was ruined when the Scarlet and Gray failed to close the door on the Jayhawks when they had the chance. Kansas went on a run, chipped away at the lead and instilled a sense of panic in the Buckeyes.
Before Ohio State knew what hit it, it was Kansas that earned the right to battle Kentucky by squeaking out a 64-62 victory.
Buckeye fans experienced some post-traumatic Kansas disorder this Saturday when the Jayhawks came to Columbus for a Final Four rematch. Frankly speaking, the lack of a killer instinct is a major reason why Ohio State has now lost to Bill Self’s team three straight times.
In the first half, the Scarlet and Gray went on a 14-0 run and had Value City Arena hopping. However, instead of keeping the pressure on and feeding off the crowd’s energy, the Bucks allowed Kansas to answer by going on a 14-4 run of its own and seizing the momentum as it headed into the locker room.
Teams with excellent killer instincts finish halves strong.
Part of having that instinct is being mentally tough. Unfortunately for Thad Matta, his bunch had plenty of mental breakdowns Saturday. In fact, that 14-4 run by Kansas was fueled by a Deshaun Thomas turnover on an inbound, LaQuinton Ross forcing a drive that simply wasn’t there, an Aaron Craft turnover and ill-advised three and Shannon Scott missing two free throws.
The majority of those errors were of the mental variety.
Even with the failure to close the first half, the game was there for the taking for the Buckeyes. The score was 49-48 with just under 12 minutes left, but it was Kansas, and not Ohio State, that demonstrated the killer instinct down the stretch in Columbus.
The Jayhawks went on 15-4 burst and took complete control of the game. That is basically the definition of a killer instinct.
Ohio State fell in love with the three-point shot despite the fact that it was not falling at all. In fact, nearly 50 percent of the Buckeyes’ shot attempts were from behind the arc, even though they shot 8-for-31 from back there.
Unfortunately for the Scarlet and Gray, this lack of a killer instinct reared its ugly head at Duke as well.
Ohio State controlled the first half in Durham and continued to play effectively after intermission. However, with six minutes to go, the Blue Devils took control and demonstrated (you guessed it) the killer instinct that the Buckeyes didn’t when they had a chance to put away the game early.
Aaron Craft made a jumper with just over three minutes left, but the Buckeyes did not make another field goal until Evan Ravenel’s dunk with three seconds remaining. Not exactly a clinic in finishing a big game.
Despite the dire tone of this article, all is certainly not lost for the Buckeyes. This is a very young team that has demonstrated flashes of brilliance and potential. The one thing really missing right now is the ability to play an entire 40 minutes against a quality opponent.
Ohio State will have plenty of chances to develop a killer instinct in the treacherous and deep Big Ten, but it better find a way to do just that if it has any hopes of winning its fourth straight conference crown.