Men's Basketball

Cats Come Up Just Short, Fall to Ohio State

by Associated Press

LAS VEGAS – D.J. Carton had 13 points, Kaleb Wesson added 12 before fouling out and No. 5 Ohio State outlasted No. 6 Kentucky 71-65 in the CBS Sports Classic on Saturday.

The Buckeyes (11-1) played with Duane Washington Jr., their second-leading scorer, limited to eight minutes due to a rib injury and had a hard time shaking the Wildcats in a physical game.

Kentucky (8-3) kept Ohio State within reach despite a poor-shooting second half before the Buckeyes stretched the lead to seven with 1:17 left. The Buckeyes made four straight free throws in the final 18 seconds to prevent Kentucky from mounting a comeback.

Wesson also had eight rebounds before fouling out with 3:30 left.

Nate Sestina scored 17 and hit five 3-pointers, and Tyrese Maxey added 15 points for the Wildcats.

“We fought,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “We tried. Thank God we had Nate. I think we put ourselves in a position where we had a chance to win. We just wouldn’t pass the ball. We’re still, we’re opening up the courts to drive people because everybody will collapse and they did collapse and we tried to shoot it anyway. … We came down three straight times with guys wide open and shot it into a guy 6-10. We’re still learning. But if this is who we are, we’ll be fine.”

Ohio State moved to No. 1 after winning its first nine games. The Buckeyes became the latest No. 1 and done in a parity-filled 2019-20 season, dropping to No. 5 after losing at Minnesota.

Kentucky opened the season at No. 2, moved to No. 1 after beating Michigan State and fell from the top spot with a surprising home loss to Evansville. The Wildcats already played one game at T-Mobile Arena this week, losing 69-66 to Utah after rallying from a 17-point deficit.

Kentucky has struggled at times with its shooting and had a hard time finding the perimeter mark in the first half – except for Sestina. The graduate transfer from Bucknell matched his season total with by going 3 for 6 from 3 while his teammates went a combined 0 for 7.

“I’m not spending much time on it,” Calipari said. “We’re just taking a lot of shots and we chart every shot. And at some point you say, ‘Fall back on your training. You made 60 in five minutes. You made 67 in five minutes. You can’t make them when you’re wide open?’ But I think I got a good shooting team. Thank goodness for Nate today.”

Young had 10 points to give Ohio State a 37-36 halftime lead.

Sestina, who just returned from a left wrist fracture, hit a couple of early 3s in the second half, but the rest of the Wildcats continued to clank, going four minutes without a field goal.

“Just coming back for my first game after an injury I was a little hesitant, didn’t want to put my hand out there, put it in passing lanes, go up with two hands to rebound,” Sestina said. “And I talked to the coaching staff and they were just like, ‘Listen, you need to just forget about it. Forget about the injury.’ Talking with our trainer Geoff (Staton), he kind of said the same thing, just go out and play and don’t think about it. And I tried to do that today, diving on the floor, not thinking about it.”

But, just as it did against Utah, Kentucky found a way to keep it close, rallying from seven down to pull within 55-54 with 6 1/2 minutes left.

Ohio State made a late push to go up seven and hit enough shots and free throws down the stretch to keep Kentucky at bay.

“These dudes are fighting and this is the process we go through every year,” Calipari said. “When they figure it out–if I don’t fight, I’m not making it. If I’m not a dog, if I’m not — you don’t make it. And it’s not about exchanging basket, let me get more shots. No.”

Said Sestina: “It kind of shows where we are right now. I think from the beginning of the year until now we have really improved our toughness. You saw guys getting chippy. Guys were bumping guys around, diving on the floor, guys stepping up, blocking shots. Like I said before, like this is a big toughness game for us, and I mean I don’t really remember the score but I think we were starting to click and we’re like two or three possessions away from really getting this thing going.” 

BIG PICTURE

Ohio State has bounced back from its lone loss of the season with a blowout over Southeast Missouri and a neutral-site win over a college basketball blue blood.

Kentucky went 0 for 2 in loss Vegas and clearly has a few issues to work out with the SEC season about to start.

UP NEXT

Ohio State plays West Virginia in Cleveland on Dec. 29.

Kentucky hosts rival Louisville next Saturday.

 

Related stories

View all