November 29, 2012

No moral victory for Buckeyes in loss to Duke

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

DURHAM, N.C. -- A five-point loss, to the No. 2-ranked team in the nation, on the road and in one of the toughest environments in country. It's not an ideal situation, but if ever there was a moral victory in the third week of the college basketball season, one might figure that this would be it.

But following Ohio State's 73-68 defeat at the hands of Duke inside of Cameron Indoor Stadium on Wednesday night, nobody inside of its locker room was buying that the No. 4-ranked Buckeyes should focus on the positives from their trip to Durham.

"I'm not happy," OSU coach Thad Matta after the game. "You go home, you look at this thing, and there's going to be some areas where we had chances to make plays and we didn't make plays.

There were plenty of positives in the first half of the Buckeyes' first primetime tip-off of the season, where despite having leading scorer Deshaun Thomas saddled to the bench with foul trouble for the final 10 minutes- and Aaron Craft right next to him for the final five- OSU took a 31-23 lead into intermission. Solid bench play from LaQuinton Ross, Shannon Scott, and Amir Williams helped carry the load for the Buckeyes, with the trio of sophomores combining for 11 first half points.

Unfortunately for OSU, however, that help disappeared in the second half, and Duke became Duke.

With the Blue Devils' defense keyed in on Thomas, and Craft struggling with the looks that he was getting, neither Scott nor Williams made a field goal in the second half, and Ross didn't get back onto the floor until there was 1:32 remaining in the game.

Matta admitted that leaving the 6-foot-8 offensive-minded sophomore on the OSU bench so long may have been an oversight, but that it was tough to put him in the game because of the defensive production that he was getting from Sam Thompson, who recorded eight rebounds on Wednesday night.

"I thought LaQuinton was really, really good. I should've gotten him probably in there a little earlier in the second half," Matta said. "Sam was rolling there and we kind of stuck with him."

The lack of bench production in the second half for the Buckeyes opened the doors for a 10-2 Duke run, which was capped off by a Ryan Kelly 3-pointer to give the Blue Devils the final lead of the game with less than six minutes remaining in regulation. Duke's run was only compounded by the shooting struggles of Craft from the field, who converted just three of his 15 shot attempts, after entering the game having made 48 percent of his field goal tries in the Buckeyes' first four games.

"Obviously, I didn't play the greatest," Craft said. "We have another game on Saturday and we have to find another way to get better and find a way to get better from this."

Matta admitted that Craft's struggles made it particularly tough for the Buckeyes to beat the Blue Devils, with Duke's defense refusing to leave their leading scorer, Thomas, open in the second half.

"Aaron had some great looks at the basket and they just didn't go down for him," Matta said. "Him getting in there, those are the ones we knew we were going to have to make."

Yet despite all that went wrong, the OSU coach was willing to admit that there were some encouraging moments that he was hoping to bring back with him to Columbus. Although they didn't pull it out, the Buckeyes had Duke and its 96 non-conference home winning streak on the ropes on Wednesday, and will get the chance to start another win streak of their own on Saturday, when they will host Northern Kentucky.

"With the youth of this team, you hope you can find some positives when we get back and build on those," Matta said. "But also, correct the negatives."


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