NEWARK, N.J. — As the ball floated through the air, it carried the weight of the world for the Buckeyes — if it fell, Ohio State would earn a spot in the Elite Eight, continuing its drive for its first national title since 1960. But, as was the case with nearly 70 percent of the Buckeyes’ shots Friday night, the ball just didn’t find the basket.
With 5.4 seconds to play, OSU quickly inbounded, following a 15-footer from Kentucky’s Brandon Knight that put the Wildcats up, 62-60. OSU’s Aaron Craft passed the ball upcourt to William Buford, who put up a shot from deep.
Buford’s 2-for-15 shooting up until that point was immaterial; if he made that shot, the Buckeyes would have walked away victorious.
In front of a crowd of 18,343, Buford’s 3-point attempt bounced off the front of the rim with 0.9 seconds remaining, and was tipped away.
The Buckeyes’ season ended there.
In the East Regional semifinal game — a contest in which the lead changed hands 19 times — No. 4 seed Kentucky (28-8) narrowly upset the overall top-seeded OSU men’s basketball team, 62-60, at the Prudential Center, ending the Buckeyes’ season in the same spot as Tennessee did last year.
But Buford was hardly to blame for the Buckeyes’ Sweet 16 departure.
OSU (34-3) ended the game shooting 19-of-58, including 6-of-16 from 3-point territory, good for just 32.8 percent of its shots from the floor.
“Some of the shots we missed are shots we have been making all year,” OSU guard Jon Diebler said. “Tonight they weren’t going in.”
The Buckeyes have shot worse than this in just two other games this season, against Florida State on Nov. 30 and Northwestern on March 11, in which they shot 32.2 percent. Despite its dismal shooting in those two contests, OSU still pulled off wins.
“You know, there have been games like this where we haven’t made shots,” OSU forward David Lighty said, “but you have to find other ways to win the game.”
The Buckeyes endured several scoreless stretches throughout the match, preventing them from running away with the lead.
Following a layup from Diebler with 5:49 left in the first half, the Buckeyes closed out the half with 0-of-6 shooting.
“You know, on the drives, we got it on the glass a couple of times; they just didn’t go in for us,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “I thought we executed pretty well, but we just didn’t finish the shots.”
Matta’s team also missed nine straight field-goal attempts following a 3-pointer from Diebler with 14:57 to play, and went 0-for-4 in the four minutes after a jumper from Lighty with 6:54 to go.
“We had open looks, and when you get them open, you know you don’t get that many and you have got to knock them down,” Lighty said. “And tonight we didn’t.”
Matta said the Buckeyes’ poor shooting wasn’t the only obstacle the team faced.
“Nobody talks about (Kentucky’s) defense,” he said. “And, you know, obviously they’re very effective defensively.”
The Wildcats blocked 11 OSU shots, which is the most any team ever has against OSU in a tournament game.
“With their size and length, you know, obviously we knew that they were shot-blockers,” Diebler said, “and they got some shots blocked.”
Despite the Buckeyes coming up short again in their national championship run, Matta said he was proud of his team’s performance this season.
“I thought we had … an incredible season, an incredible run for these guys,” he said. “I never had a team like this.”