Saturday, Mar 26 at 9:04 AM
Want to hear a mind blowing game fact from last night’s instant classic between Ohio State and Kentucky? 30:09 of the last 30:39 was contested in the most tightly way possible, with one shot capable of turning the tide. After Ohio State opened what ended up being the game’s largest lead at 16-9 and Kentucky dug in with a 6-0 run to cut the lead to one, the rest of the game- THE REST OF THE GAME -was played in a one possession game. In fact, there were only 30 seconds when either team would have had to rely on the rare four point play to tie.
That’s how good that game was last night. Were you not entertained! UK-Ohio State delivered on my promise from a month ago when I advocated it as the best possible match-up for UK (http://www.whas11.com/sports/FMD-Mid-week-Buffet-115530809.html) “This is as good a game as the committee could have asked.”
If you read yesterday’s blog, you know I have friends who were invested on both sides of this clash. For every “YIPPPPPEEEEEEEE!!!” facebook post I had around midnight last night, there was the “Poor Brutus” ones from old friends in Ohio. One Ohio friend even wanted to file this heartbreak in the same drawer with all the famous Cleveland defeats, the Drive, the Fumble etc.
Elation and heartbreak in equal measures among my circle.
The game was well-played throughout. Despite stifling defense there were only 18 total turnovers in the game. There were dunks and threes and some trash talk and all sorts of intensity emanating from New York that could be felt back here in the midwest.
While the game was the competitiveness and style I expected, there were some surprises that turned the game. I didn’t expect a huge performance by Liggins who finished with 15 points, perhaps spurred by some trash talk with the Buckeyes center Sullinger in the second half, he was exquisite down the stretch.. Nor did I expect such a poor performance by Buford of the Buckeyes. Harrellson acquitted himself quite well, probably a tad better than I had expected, but Sullinger got more than his share too.
Let’s pick it up with 7:48 remaining. The broadcast went to a break with Deandre Liggins at the free throw line and UK down one. In this break I told my wife, if nothing changes UK will win. To that point I felt the Cats had gotten the better of the contest, Ohio State wasn’t playing poorly, but they weren’t functioning on their accustomed level, and UK was playing at a slightly higher level than I anticipated. Ohio State had to pick it up to win. They did, but so did Kentucky.
What had been a tactical fight like one featuring Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Sugar Shane Mosely turned into a toe to toe Gatti-Ward war with both teams trading shots. The next two minutes saw each team score six points. A layup by Sullinger, was followed by the customary out of nowhere three from Jones. A spinning hoop by Lighty was followed by a three point play from Harrellson, which was capped off by a Craft effort rebound and two free throws to tie the game at 53 with 5:39 to play and it…was…on!
When John Calipari called timeout following a Lighty layup with exactly two minutes remaining, the Cats trailed by one. That’s when Liggins threw his hat into the ring as more than just a support player. A foul drawing drive into Sullinger, two free throws and mid-range jumper had the Cats up three with 30 seconds to play.
Ohio State called timeout and dialed up a play for Diebler. You have to imagine in the huddle he told coach Matta “I’ll make it coach,” Jimmy Chitwood style. One problem, Kentucky totally overplayed and shut the play down. Diebler was not content to let his college career end this night. He took a couple of dribbles right, then cut back left and nailed a gutty three from 28 foot to re-tie. A fitting last shot for him in scarlet and grey, probably his best basket as a Buckeye.
We all know this was not the last haymaker thrown in this one. Both teams with timeouts remaining, the Cats inbound to Brandon Knight. Knight who was 2-9 from the field and still confident in his role as late game shot taker dribbled through mid-court and launched a 17 footer on the run with Craft in his pocket. As pure a shot was never spun by Wall, Bogans, Sheppard or Chapman, the ball slid easily through the twine. As a last minute scramble three fell off the front iron for the Buckeyes, big blue’s undermanned bench swarmed the court.
Perhaps the most ringing endorsement of the contest came from a colleague here in Louisville who was covering the game in Newark. Earlier in the game he put out that there was a mishap with the OSU cheerleaders routine during a media timeout(being in the presence of the multiple National Champions from the bluegrass has a way of rattling the cheer squad’s nerves I guess). Later he said Sullinger was really winded.
After the game he simply posted: ”UK-OSU....best game I've ever seen in person. Hats off to both squads.”
What a scene, what a game. The improbable, but thrilling run continues now for Kentucky. A rematch from an early season heart breaker with North Carolina awaits. Just for this morning college hoops fans let’s bask in the glow of last night’s game. A beauty on the scale of sunset in Malabu, or should I say Mala-”blue.”