Andy Gottesman / Multimedia Editor
NEWARK, N.J. — For the second consecutive season, Ohio State exits the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16 — and, for the second consecutive season, an SEC team showed it the door.
Shooting a season-low 32.8 percent from the floor, the OSU men’s basketball team could not hold on, and fell to Kentucky, 62-60, on Friday in Newark, N.J., in the NCAA Tournament.
“Some of the shots we missed are shots we have been making all year,” OSU senior guard Jon Diebler said. “It is one of those games you have to give them credit. … Those are shots that we make, and tonight they weren’t going in.”
Though a 3-point basket from Diebler tied the game, 60-60, with 21.1 seconds left, Kentucky freshman Brandon Knight hit a jumper in the lane with 5.4 seconds remaining to give the Wildcats the win.
“Today he struggled shooting, but he made that last one,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “If we are in another game and it is late, that coach will know we’re playing through Brandon.”
The final attempt by OSU junior guard William Buford was off the mark. After averaging 18 points in the Buckeyes’ first two tournament games, Buford had just nine points on a dismal 2-for-16 shooting.
“Will got a great look off, and we had enough time to make a play on it if it didn’t go in,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “I don’t know who it was that tipped it away from us.”
The contest opened with poor shooting from both teams in front of a crowd of 18,343. OSU and Kentucky had hit only one field goal each when the whistle was blown for the first media timeout with 15:35 remaining in the half. OSU had three turnovers to Kentucky’s two during that stretch, but the Buckeyes led, 4-2.
Though OSU shot just 30.8 percent from the floor in the first half, it was able to remain in the game by putting multiple Wildcats in foul trouble and connecting on 12 of its 15 free-throw attempts. The teams went to intermission knotted, 30-30.
“Well,” Matta said, “one of those games where we had a hard time putting the ball in the basket.”
Kentucky entered the locker room with 11 team fouls — including two on starters Knight, freshman forward Terrence Jones, senior forward Josh Harrellson and junior guard Darius Miller. The Wildcats’ sixth man, junior guard DeAndre Liggins, also had two fouls at the break.
OSU fifth-year senior forward David Lighty was able to stay in front of Kentucky’s dribble-drive offense, and drew three charges early, including one on each of Kentucky’s two leading scorers, Knight and Jones.
Foul trouble aside, Harrellson led the way for Kentucky early with 12 first-half points to go along with seven rebounds. The senior finished the game with 17 and 10, respectively.
Overall, the Wildcats used a balanced attack as all six players who logged minutes scored. Liggins nearly matched Harrellson’s output with 15 points of his own.
The teams traded baskets and played evenly for much of the second half as the score was 53-53 with 5:38 remaining in the game.
With Buford struggling, the team relied on Freshman of the Year forward Jared Sullinger, who tallied 21 points and 16 rebounds, both game highs.
Diebler added 16 for the Buckeyes, while Lighty had 12. Nothing the seniors could do made up for the team’s overall poor shooting. Lighty leaves OSU as the program leader in wins, with 128, and Diebler’s 374 made 3-pointers are tops in Big Ten history.
“(We had) an incredible season, an incredible run for these guys,” Matta said. “I told them I never had a team like this, and, you know, these two guys (Diebler and Lighty), as seniors, were incredible.”
The 19-for-58 shooting from OSU was good for more than 20 percentage points below its average in its first two tournament games.
“It hurts,” Diebler said, “just because we felt we could — we could make a run at the championship.”
The Buckeyes will be forced to watch the remainder of the NCAA Tournament from home as they follow Duke and Pittsburgh as No. 1 seeds to make an early exit.