The Bobcats did a great job of taking away what they thought was most important.
But that’s the problem playing a team like Kentucky. No matter what you take away, the Wildcats seemingly always have another way to beat you.
No. 13 Kentucky closed the game strong, and pulled away late to down visiting Ohio, 77-59, on Friday night at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. The Wildcats (3-1) snapped a 48-48 tie at the 14-minute mark of the second half with a 9-0 burst and never looked back while sending the Bobcats (3-1) to their first loss of the year.
Kentucky finished the game on a 29-11 run as the Bobcats missed 12 of their final 16 shots. Ohio was mauled on the glass, as UK enjoyed a 53-17 edge in rebounds; the Bobcats had just 6 rebounds the entire second half.
“You can’t stimulate their length and athleticism,” Ohio coach Jeff Boals said. “But I thought the switching they did slowed us down…I think it’s a mixture of fatigue and what they did to us defensively. But, without looking at the second half I was happy with some of the looks we got.”
Keion Brooks Jr. netted a game-high 22 points on a plethora of mid-range jumpers and added eight rebounds for Kentucky. Freshman wing TyTy Washington Jr. added career-high 20 points and 11 rebounds, and added five assists. Davion Mintz was a difference-maker off the bench with 12 points and nine rebounds.
“Obviously at 53-17 you’re not going to win a lot of games,” Ohio forward Ben Vander Plas.
“Those 50/50 balls, we weren’t getting them, they were. And they were turning them into kick-out 3s and easy buckets. We got to get more if we want to win a game like that.”
PG Sahvir Wheeler entered with 30 assists in three games, but was held to 11 points and four assists. The nation’s leading rebounder, Oscar Tshiebwe, played just one minute in the first half and collared 10 rebounds in the second without scoring. Long-range shooter Kellan Grady was scoreless in 20 minutes.
Wheeler, Tshiebwe, and Grady loomed large in Ohio’s defensive game plan, and the Bobcats effectively dealt with them. But Kentucky found success in other ways, and closed the game out with defense and rebounding.
“We were going to help off him a lot to focus on Tshiebwe and he did a great job hitting those 15 to 18-foot jumpers. You gotta give up something,” Ohio forward Jason Carter said.
Vander Plas had a team-high 19 points and six rebounds to lead Ohio. Carter added 15 points and five rebounds. Mark Sears had 10 points and five assists, but finished just 2 of 11 from the field and didn’t score in the second half.
Outside of those ‘big 3’ the Bobcats shot just 5 of 18. Ohio hit just 8 of 24 (33 percent) from 3-point range, and cooled off dramatically after the break (3 of 12).
The loss was the eighth in a row for Ohio against Kentucky, and the Wildcats now own a 15-1 edge in the all-time series. OU is now 12-59 all-time against teams inside the Top 25. It was Ohio’s first game at Rupp Arena in 27 years.
Despite all of that, the Bobcats were very much in the game — even controlling segments — throughout the first 30 minutes.
Ohio grabbed a second-half lead at 42-40 on Carter’s layup, pushed it to four on his driving bank shot, retook the lead again a couple minutes later on a putback by Vander Plas, and then tied the game 48-48 with 14:07 left after Carter’s driving score.
Then Kentucky took over. Brooks hit a baseline jumper, Wheeler added a floater, Washington hit a 3-pointer, and Mintz capped the 9-0 surge with a fast-break dunk in response for a 57-48 lead with 11:45 remaining.
A.J. Clayton buried back-to-back 3-pointers for a temporary reprieve for Ohio. The Bobcats made just three shots over a period of more than 13 minutes as Kentucky eventually built a 20-point margin. Vander Plas gave OU its first two-point bucket in more than 14 minutes with a dunk with five seconds remaining.
“We came in here expecting to win, we believed we could win. We knew we had to make shots to do it.”
Kentucky struggled with Ohio throughout the first half, and led just 40-38 at the break. Carter scored seven points in the first four minutes, Tshiebwe picked up two fouls in the first 66 seconds and Ohio led by eight, 22-14, with 11 minutes left in the half.
But the Wildcats rattled off a 10-2 spurt, and tied it 24-24 with 8:10 left on a layup from Mintz.
Ohio went back in front on a Vander Plas 3-pointer, and led 38-34 with 3:37 left on another 3 from Vander Plas. But UK dialed in, and forced seven straight Bobcat misses to end the half. Kentucky took the halftime lead on a pair of free throws from Mintz. The game was the second for the Bobcats in the Kentucky Classic, a four-team MTE event. The event, for OU, concludes Monday when the Bobcats host Mount Saint Mary’s (Md.) in the Convo starting at 7 p.m. The Mountaineers (2-3) knocked off Robert Morris, 74-70, on Friday night.