DURHAM, N.C. - You have to go back to almost the turn of the millennium for the last time a non-conference opponent has gone into Duke and beat the Blue Devils on their home floor and for more than 34 minutes it appeared that the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes may be the team to stop the streak. But Mason Plumlee had 21 points and 17 rebounds as the Buckeyes couldn't get any shots to drop en route to a 73-68 loss at No. 2 Duke.
Deshaun Thomas led the Buckeyes with 16 points but was held to 6-14 shooting and two rebounds in a game where the size of Duke created problems for the Buckeyes and forced Aaron Craft to shoulder the load. Craft was held to 3-15 shooting and 11 points and Ohio State was held to 34-percent shooting from the field.
"If you had told me we were going to shoot 34-percent, I would have said that we got ran out of the gym tonight," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said after the game.
The Buckeyes held an eight point lead at halftime (31-23) and led by as many as ten points in the opening moments of the second half but never were really able to put Duke away. The Blue Devils were held to 6-20 shooting in the first half but came to life with 58-percent shooting in the second half and Rasheed Sulaimon went 7-10 in the second half for all 17 of his points.
Ohio State had several opportunities in the first half and in the first ten minutes of the second half to put some separation between them and the Blue Devils but only one Buckeye, Evan Ravenel shot better than 50-percent from the field (4-4, eight points). The Blue Devils made a point to hound Thomas and that meant that the pressure was on Aaron Craft to not only create but to score.
"Obviously I didn't play the greatest but like the coaches say, 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," Craft said after the game.
Even with the Buckeye cold shooting the team was still very much in the game in the first minutes of the second half. The coaches tried to settle down the troops and reset the situation and keep from taking on anymore water.
"We felt good and we felt like coming out in the second half that the first four minutes were going to be huge and I took the time out and said that, 'we are only down two points right now and have played two and a half minutes'," Matta said. "We had our opportunities."
At the 8:26 mark of the second half the Buckeyes were up five after Thomas hit a three-pointer to muffle the raucous home crowd but after that point the Blue Devils went on a 12-3 run to erase the deficit and take a four point lead.
"We knew they had a run in them," Ohio State guard Shannon Scott said. "We knew sometime in the game they were going to hit a run on us."
The problem the Buckeyes faced is while Duke was getting hot and making its shots, Ohio State was not getting anything on the offensive side and instead of having chances to score in transition were having to take the ball out after made baskets.
"We didn't get the stops that we needed at the stretch," Thomas said."You have got to get stops and get to your offense."
By the time Ohio State fund and scoring the team was in an eight point hole with 1:04 left to go. The Blue Devils did leave the door open for Ohio State however in missing the front end of one-and-one opportunities and the Buckeyes cut it to two with 29 seconds left in the game after a pair of Scott free throws. But Ohio State would get no closer and the Blue Devils would hit their next seven free throws to ice the game and win their 97th straight non-conference game at home.
"I'm not happy," Matta said. "I think that we go home and look at this thing and there's going to be some areas where we had chances to make plays and didn't make plays."
Matta focused on a pair of breakdowns that led to easy Duke buckets when the team was trying to hold on to any semblance of momentum.
"They scored two times in a row on the same play and we knew that the play was coming," Matta said. "We didn't guard it the way we were supposed to guard it. I know it is early in the season but damn, you have got to make those... you can't give it up two times in a row."
Ohio State is back in action at home on Saturday against Northern Kentucky and will look to get back on the winning side of the ledger. Ohio State's next eight games are at home, including one against Kansas before going back on the road in Big Ten play against Illinois after the first of the year.