Michael Periatt / Asst. sports editor
LAWRENCE, Kan. — Ohio State men’s basketball sophomore forward Jared Sullinger was absent from the Buckeyes’ lineup for the second consecutive game, and Kansas junior forward Thomas Robinson took full advantage.
In Sullinger’s absence and with no dominant presence to deny him, Robinson tied for a game-high 21 points to help No. 13 Kansas (7-2) beat No. 2 OSU (8-1), 78-67.
Robinson said he knew the anticipated matchup between he and Sullinger was off the first time he ran on the floor and saw the OSU sophomore wearing street clothes.
“I was excited to go against (Sullinger),” Robinson said. “It comes down to is Kansas versus Ohio State. It’s not Thomas Robinson versus Jared Sullinger. I know it would have been fun for everybody to watch, but it comes down to my team versus their team.”
Sullinger suffered back spasms during the team’s Nov. 29 win against Duke and missed last Saturday’s 64-35 win against Texas-Pan American, allowing Robinson to contribute during Kansas’ 9-2 run to open the game and light the fuse of a rowdy Allen Fieldhouse crowd. Robinson scored seven points in the first half.
“It’s a tremendous chance (without Sullinger) because he’s the best big man in the country,” OSU senior guard WIlliam Buford said. “When you’re missing out on that, you’re going to have difficulties and have to make some adjustments.”
Saturday marked the first time that Sullinger missed consecutive games in his OSU career.
Kansas went on a 9-2 run to extend its lead to 23-13 with fewer than eight minutes to play.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by OSU sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas and a rim-rattling dunk by freshman center Amir Williams silenced the raucous Jayhawks supporters as the Buckeyes climbed to be within five points at 26-21.
Thomas helped OSU stay in the game, eventually scoring 15 first-half points on 5-of-8 shooting.
As is customary when Kansas is playing well at Allen Fieldhouse, the silence was short lived.
A dunk by Kansas junior forward Kevin Young brought the few fans were seated to their feet, with just more than four minutes to play and restored the Jayhawks’ 10-point lead.
Kansas eventually took a 35-29 lead into half. The Jayhawks’ 35 points were the most allowed by the Buckeyes in the opening period since VMI scored 44 in the first half of a Nov. 23 game.
New Kansas football coach and four-time Super Bowl champion Charlie Weis was introduced at halftime and addressed the crowd saying, “Let’s whoop Ohio State’s.”
Led by Robinson, the whooping would follow in the half to come.
Kansas opened the second half by hitting four 3-pointers with junior guard Elijah Johnson hitting three of them. A one-handed dunk by Robinson helped give the Jayhawks a 52-44 midway through the period.
Buford scored just four points and was just 1-of-7 shooting in the first half, but had accumulated 14 points with under nine minutes remaining to help to Buckeyes remain competitive.
Buford finished the game with 21 points, three assists and five rebounds.
Matta’s team trailed, 59-48, with 8:44 to play when Robinson was called for a technical foul. Buford hit the resulting free-throws before sophomore guard Jordan Sibert stole the ball and added two points to cut the deficit to seven with 8:08 to play.
The Buckeyes had the Jayhawks lead down to six points with 1:24 to play and would not go away.
Robinson hauled in two rebounds off missed OSU shots with under a minute to play, the second of which came with the shot clock unplugged. Williams attempted to foul Robinson, but was called for an intentional foul. Robinson made the ensuing free-throws to ice the game.
“I had some up-and-down moments in the game as far as dealing with frustration,” Robinson said. “My teammates just kept talking to me and telling me to finish the game and that’s what happened.”
Robinson was subbed from the game with 11.8 seconds to play and the victory secured, and received a standing ovation. The celebration went into full-force seconds later when the clock bled out and Kansas won by the same score.
OSU will return home for a Wednesday game against South Carolina-Upstate at the Schottenstein Center. Opening tip is set for 7:30 p.m.