Ohio State’s two prior top 10 matchups this year were 25-point blowout wins, but the Buckeyes faced a blow-for-blow nail-biter against Kentucky Saturday.
No. 5 Ohio State (11-1) handed No. 6 Kentucky (8-3) its second straight loss in the past three days with a 71-65 win that came down to the final minutes in the CBS Sports Classic in Las Vegas.
With time ticking to less than a minute, Kentucky needed a stop, down five, for a chance to steal the game from the Buckeyes.
Instead, Ohio State redshirt junior guard C.J. Walker drained a 3 that served as the late dagger. Ohio State went up eight points and held on to the lead the rest of the way.
A few minutes earlier, Kentucky sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley hit a 3-pointer in the left corner in the latter half of the second period to bring the Wildcats within one, but Ohio State freshman guard D.J. Carton answered with a scoop layup on the other end to stay ahead.
Ohio State had an answer for Kentucky each time the momentum seemed poised to switch, as the Buckeyes maintained a tie or small lead for the entire second half.
The Buckeyes closed out the Wildcats without junior forward Kaleb Wesson, who fouled out with 3:30 left. Wesson finished with 12 points on 2-for-6 shooting.
Up five in the final two minutes, a steal from sophomore guard Luther Muhammad led to another Carton basket that extended the Buckeye lead to seven.
It went back and forth from opening tipoff to the final horn, with neither team taking more than a four-point lead in the first half, but Ohio State played ahead for the majority of the game.
Kentucky went just 2-for-17 from the 3-point line in its previous loss to Utah, but redshirt senior forward Nate Sestina hit three in the first half alone, one coming on the Wildcats’ final possession of the opening period to take a one-point deficit into the locker room.
Sestina finished with a season-high 17 points, and hit five 3s in the game.
Kaleb Wesson drew two quick off-ball fouls on Kentucky defenders early and faced double teams on nearly every post touch. He scored seven points in the first half despite taking just two shots in the period.
Junior forward Kyle Young was the beneficiary of Kentucky’s increased attention on Kaleb Wesson, putting up a team-high 10 points in the first half without a miss from the floor or the free-throw line. He’d miss his lone shot of the second period.
The Buckeyes shot eight more free throws than the Wildcats in the first half, shooting 10-for-12. Foul trouble continued to be an issue for the Wildcats, who gave up 21 points to the Buckeyes on free-throw attempts in the game.
Kentucky sophomore guard Ashton Hagans leads his team in both points and assists this season and was the aggressor for the Wildcats early.
Hagans had 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting, and showed why he was this past season’s Co-Defensive Player of the Year in the SEC with two steals midway into the half that sparked a 5-0 run that briefly earned Kentucky the lead.
Hagans knotted the game at 31 late in the half, but a 3-pointer on the other end from Ohio State senior forward Andre Wesson kept the lead in the Buckeyes’ favor.
However, Hagans scored just three more points in the second half.
Kentucky’s second-leading scorer, 6-foot-11 junior forward Nick Richards, took just one shot in the opening half and didn’t score until 14 minutes into the game on a long 2-point attempt with his toe on the 3-point line.
Richards picked up his third foul on Kaleb Wesson just more than a minute into the second half and was promptly subbed out in favor of Sestina.
Ohio State sophomore guard Duane Washington returned to action after missing the past two games with a rib injury. Washington air-balled his first attempt from 3, and went 1-for-4 in the first 20 minutes. He finished with eight points.
Ohio State will play West Virginia Dec. 29 at noon in Cleveland.