Ohio State just couldn’t find the rim. The Buckeyes squandered an early opportunity to put Duke away during a 10-minute field goal drought and when the Blue Devils caught fire midway through the second half, Ohio State couldn’t match them at the offensive end. Duke was the better team down the stretch and managed to squeak out a 73-68 win over the Buckeyes in their first ever trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium. Ohio State (4-1) came out the more aggressive team on the glass and on defense but ultimately could not sustain it and the shots never fell all game long. Chalk this up to a learning experience type of game in the end, but if Ohio State had played even halfway decent offense they win on the road against a top five team. Credit Duke (7-0) for making the plays in the second half. The Blue Devils hit 18/31 (58%) in the second half after making 6/20 in the first.
The Buckeyes shot only 31.4% before the break (11/35, including 4/14 outside the arc) and let the Blue Devils hang around by committing a lot of silly fouls. Duke made 10/12 free throws in the first half to stay within eight points of Ohio State in a first half that wasn’t as close as the 31-23 score indicated. And that was despite the fact that Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft sat for a long stretch with two fouls apiece. Thomas scored 16 to lead Ohio State, but he wasn’t very efficient (6/14). After his long sit in the first half he tried to do too much at times in the second. Aaron Craft scored 11 but was uncharacteristically off. He made just three of his 15 field goal attempts, turned the ball over three times against zero steals and had just one assist. Lenzelle Smith Jr. also scored 11, but he was a non-factor in the second half, making just 1/5 after hitting 3/7 in the first 20 minutes.
Duke freshman Rasheed Sulaimon got Duke going in the second half making some tough shots over Sam Thompson, who played well defensively to make up for a trio of missed bunnies in the first half. Sulaimon scored 17 points and served as a catalyst. Ryan Kelly (15 points) helped with a pair of treys as Duke chipped away at an eight-point hole and finally overcame it in the late going. Mason Plumlee had the gaudy stats (21 points, 17 rebounds), and deservedly so, but the Buckeyes were largely holding off Duke before Sulaimon and Kelly got things going, despite Plumlee getting his.
Sulaimon’s jumpers over pretty tight coverage by Thompson started the comeback and the freshman hit a triple to finally pull Duke within 51-50 with 6:53 to play. After Evan Ravenel hit a tough jumper over Plumlee, Kelly hit a trey to tie the game at 53. He hit another to put Duke ahead for the first time since early in the game. Once Duke took the lead, Ohio State missed some freebies and it was all the Buckeyes could do to trade points the rest of the way.
I’m not really sure what to make of Craft’s performance. Sometimes guys have bad nights. The offense broke down in the second half when it seemed every trip was just a screen for the point guard to find space and launch a shot. This was not good since the point guards were Shannon Scott, who has yet to prove he can hit jump shots (1/8 tonight), and an unusually adrift Craft. Ohio State finished with just six team assists on the night.
Free throws played a role as well. Duke hit 20/27 and Ohio State hit 16/22. Duke made them down the stretch and Ohio State didn’t when trying to even the game several times in the closing minutes. Amir Williams surprisingly hit 4/6, scoring all four of his points from the line and adding 10 rebounds off the bench.
All things considered, it wasn’t what Duke wanted. After last year’s 20-point bombing they suffered at the hands of Ohio State, the Blue Devils no doubt wanted to repay the favor and ended up very lucky to escape on their home floor. Ohio State’s young players will learn a lot from this game, but the main thing is that the Buckeyes showed their lack of a go-to scoring threat in the second half. There was no Jared Sullinger or William Buford to step up and Thomas was defended well.
The Buckeyes will try to bounce back Saturday against Northern Kentucky.
Notes: The loss snapped a four-game winning streak in the Challenge and dropped Ohio State to 5-6 all-time in the B1G/ACC showcase and 3-4 overall against Duke…The Buckeyes fall to 38-27 against ACC opponents…The conferences tied the Challenge with six wins apiece, but the B1G retains the trophy (besides, one of their wins was new B1G member, Maryland)…Thomas reached the 1,000-point mark for his Ohio State career and passed assistant coach Chris Jent to move into 48th on the school’s career scoring list.