COLUMBUS: Redshirt freshman Ben McLemore scored 22 points and No. 9 Kansas proved it was more than just a bully at home by beating seventh-ranked Ohio State 74-66 on Saturday.
It was the third victory for the Jayhawks (10-1) in little more than a year over the Buckeyes (9-2). Kansas won a 64-62 thriller in last year’s NCAA Tournament semifinals.
The Jayhawks, who had yet to play a true road game, held Ohio State without a field goal for more than 10 minutes of the second half. The Buckeyes, who were led by Deshaun Thomas’ 16 points, hit just 9-of-36 shots from the field in the final 20 minutes.
Jeff Withey added 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Jayhawks. Elijah Johnson added 13 and Travis Releford 11.
Shannon Scott had a career-high 15 for the Buckeyes.
The game was expected to be a major challenge for Kansas, which has won nine in a row since losing to Michigan State 67-64 on Nov. 13 in Atlanta. The Jayhawks came in 7-0 at home, with two other games played before friendly fans in nearby Kansas City.
They had barely heard a boo all season.
After an even first half, the teams traded punches to start the second half. The Buckeyes scored the first five points, before Kansas scored the next six.
Each team had to deal with foul trouble, Withey getting his third with 12 minutes left in a close game and the Buckeyes’ spark plug, Aaron Craft — the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year — after he picked up his third.
The Jayhawks finally forged a lead by holding Ohio State without a field goal for more than 10 minutes of the half. Thomas’ 3-pointer with 18:25 left gave Ohio State a 40-37 lead and its next basket — Amir Williams’ bucket inside off a Thomas assist at the 8:15 mark — cut the Kansas lead to 53-50.
Ahead 56-52 with 7 minutes left, Kansas pulled away thanks to its brilliant leading scorer. McLemore hit two foul shots and then flipped in a 15-foot jumper that bounced three times before falling through. Off an inbounds pass, McLemore then came off a back pick and dunked to push the lead to 62-52 with 5 minutes left.
The Buckeyes never got closer than six points again.
It was the sixth straight home game for Ohio State, with two games remaining in an extended homestand that takes it through the Big Ten opener on Jan. 2 against Nebraska. The Buckeyes had won five in a row since their only loss, a 73-68 setback at now-No. 1 Duke in which they led most of the way and withered at the finish.
That was similar to what happened a year ago in the national semifinals. The Buckeyes led by as many as 13 points and were in command most of the way before Kansas caught and passed them in the waning moments for a 64-62 victory.
The Jayhawks had also won an earlier meeting in December of 2011 at home, 78-67 when Ohio State did not have two-time All-American forward Jared Sullinger, who was out with back spasms.
The first half had a little bit of everything.
Kansas had the best of it at the start, building a seven-point lead as Withey looked active at both ends and McLemore poured in two 3-pointers.
Then the Buckeyes took the ball and, literally, ran with it. Scott came in and immediately the Buckeyes looked quicker, scoring in transition, beating the Jayhawks down the court. He also had three quick assists and two steals, propping up Ohio State while leading-scorer Thomas got untracked from being double-teamed every time he touched the ball.
Ohio State trailed 23-17 midway through the half, but put together a 14-0 run to seemingly take control.
Scott hit a layup, almost punched in a follow that glanced in off glass and then tossed in a 3 from the right wing during the spurt. Thomas started it with two free throws and later hit a 3. Sam Thompson double-clutched and scored on a baseline drive.
McLemore added five late points — he had 13 at the break — to give the Jayhawks a 37-35 upper hand.
The Buckeyes relied on their distant shooting to stay in it, hitting 6-of-13 shots behind the arc in the opening 20 minutes.
The Buckeyes dropped to 5-2 against top-10 teams at Value City Arena since Thad Matta took over as coach 10 years ago.