A double-double from veteran center Jeff Withey and floor-leading performance from rookie guard Ben McLemore fueled Kansas in the top-10 matchup against Ohio State, 74-66, Saturday afternoon at the Value City Arena.
The highly-anticipated meeting pitted No. 9/8 Kansas (10-1) and No. 7 Ohio State (9-2) against each other for the third time in two seasons, including the Final Four meeting that sent the Jayhawks to the 2012 National Championship game. The result was to be expected as the two battled through a pair of big runs during a close first half before Kansas built the double-digit lead in the final frame to snag the win in its first true road game of the season.
After watching his Jayhawks play OSU twice from the bench last season, McLemore was outstanding in his first shot at the Buckeyes. With all eyes on the rookie starting his first true road game, McLemore responded with a three-pointer to open the game and stayed hot all afternoon to lead all scorers with 22 points on an 8-for-17 shooting effort that included three three-pointers. The Saint Louis, Mo., native also snagged six rebounds and during a foul-heavy game, was not whistled for a single foul.
In contrast, Withey was called for a season-high three fouls, but it did little to dampen his game. The senior center turned in 14 points and 10 boards for the double-double, while fellow senior Kevin Young also grabbed 10 rebounds to tie a career high. All four seniors were active in the win as guards Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford tallied 13 and 11 points, respectively.
The Buckeyes were led by junior forward Deshaun Thomas and sophomore guard Shannon Scott with 16 and 15 points, respectively. The pair were the only two in double-figures as Kansas held Ohio State to a season-low 30.8 shooting percentage, while the Jayhawks themselves shot over 50 percent for the fifth-straight game.
A pair of threes from sophomore guard Sam Johnson marked the only Buckeye scorer through the first media timeout, while the visiting Jayhawks received contribution from four different players en route to taking the early 11-6 lead. In fact, the only points OSU scored for the first seven minutes came from behind the arc.
Meanwhile, McLemore and Withey each connected on three of their first four shots to keep KU in front before taking a quick seat on the bench. A miscommunicated rebound resulted in a second-chance three for junior guard Aaron Craft, cutting the Kansas lead to three until sophomore guard Naadir Tharpe immediately answered with a three on the other end.
Tharpe's three, however, sparked an 11-0 Ohio State run. When Thomas drilled his second three of the game, it shifted a 16-9 Kansas lead to a 24-23 KU deficit – marking the first time in eight games Kansas has trailed. Two more buckets from the Buckeyes prompted a timeout from the Kansas bench before a three from Craft expanded OSU's lead to 31-23.
Page 2 of 2 - Trailing for the first time in more than a month, Kansas went to work. Four points from Young and a layup from Johnson powered a 7-0 run, whittling the OSU lead to a single point directly out of the final media timeout, 31-30.
Johnson drove through the middle of the lane to reclaim the lead with a layup and McLemore took it from there, scoring five-straight points to force an Ohio State timeout. Although Craft hit the front end of two free throws with four ticks on the clock, Kansas took a 37-35 lead to the break.
After ending the first half on a 14-4 run and handing the Buckeyes' their first halftime deficit of the season, Kansas fended off a 5-0 OSU rally to keep the slim lead through the first media timeout, 43-40.
The second half took on a more physical feel when Withey, Johnson and Tharpe each found themselves strapped with three fouls apiece with more than 12 and a half minutes to play. Unfazed, Kansas found ways to make shots, shooting 50 percent (5-for-10) by the second media timeout, while holding the Buckeyes to two baskets in their first 14 attempts.
Despite shooting less than 20 percent, the Buckeyes stayed close through much of the second half. They had narrowed KU's lead to three when Releford's first three of the game came at a good time, handing the Jayhawks a slight margin of breathing room, 56-50.
As the five-minute mark neared, McLemore appeared more cool and collected as the game pressed on. He broke free for his own 6-0 run, propelling him past the 20-point barrier for the fourth time this season – resulting in the afternoon's first double-digit lead, 62-52.
Ohio State's shooting woes delved further as Kansas locked down to hold the home team scoreless for five minutes. A long jumper from junior guard Lenzelle Smith, Jr., broke the Buckeyes' silence, but only to cut KU's lead back to 10. The Jayhawk defense then forced back-to-back turnovers to thwart the last rally attempts.
Foul calls piled up in the waning moments, and KU responded with 10-for-14 showing at the line in the last 1:44 to close the book on Ohio State as Kansas headed home with the 74-66 win.
No. 9/8 Kansas will return home to host American University on Saturday, Dec. 29 at 7 p.m. to close out the 2012 calendar year.