COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The offensive skills are just as good on the road.
So Ben McLemore just might use them to drive Kansas right back to the Final Four.
Despite dealing with some nerves as he stepped out on the floor at Value City Arena for his first true road test against a top-10 opponent, the redshirt freshman needed less than a minute to shake them off and hit his first shot, setting the tone for another dynamic outing as the No. 9 Jayhawks once again knocked off No. 7 Ohio State with a 74-66 win on Saturday afternoon.
And while there were plenty of familiar faces in a lineup that won two high-profile matchups with the Buckeyes a season ago, it was one that didn’t appear in last spring's national semifinal featuring these programs that had Kansas looking more than capable of a return trip in a few months.
“You know, it was my first time playing an away game and stuff like that, playing in front of this type of crowd,” McLemore said. “At first I was a little nervous, but you know, that’s what happens when you play your first game away. Going up and down the court a little bit, I just played my game, stayed with intensity and tried to play my game.
“This experience was great.”
By his coach’s own admission, McLemore could still use more seasoning like he got in front of a vocal crowd looking for some revenge against the team that ended Ohio State’s season one game short of the title game. But if he was overwhelmed early by the noise or the environment, he wasted no time getting comfortable by drilling a 3-pointer from the left wing to open the scoring and sending a message that his versatile offensive game would translate just fine away from home.
He flashed his smooth release from the perimeter with a couple more 3s. He showed off his athleticism by creating room for a pull-up jumper and closing his first half on the road with an emphatic dunk in transition.
And even when something went wrong, McLemore was able to make erasing his mistakes look easy. After botching an easy slam off an inbounds play, he simply corralled his miss, put it right back up for a conversion, absorbed some contact to draw a foul and turned it into a 3-point play instead.
By the time the Jayhawks were putting the finishing touches on a three-game trifecta of wins at home, on the road and in a neutral site against the Buckeyes, McLemore had a game-high 22 points. And Kansas had more evidence that the young scorer is capable of handling the offensive load for a team stocked with experienced veterans around him, even in a hostile building against an opponent known for its feisty defense and in spite of his relative lack of experience.
“Oh yeah, there’s still a lot of stuff I’m curious about with Ben,” KU coach Bill Self said. “Ben is an unbelievable talent, but he’s still trying to figure out how to play. He’s played less basketball than anybody around that is as old as him and good as him.
“I mean, when you’re talking about games that matter and situations like that, it’s all new to him. When he figures out how to put himself in situations and understand time, score and momentum, when it comes natural to him, he’s going to become terrific. Right now he’s really good.”
That was more than enough against the Buckeyes, who did just about everything they could defensively to slow down Kansas but were betrayed by another ugly shooting effort after halftime.
Ohio State was largely effective on the defensive end in forcing 19 turnovers and making it difficult for Jeff Withey to get entry passes or easy looks on the inside, though the Kansas center still chipped in 14 points. But with the Buckeyes making just 2 of their 18 attempts from 3-point range in the second half, keeping pace with McLemore and the Jayhawks was a bit too much to ask down the stretch.
“You know, I’ll be honest, he’s a very smooth player,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “He’s got a really, really quick release. ... He is as good as any player in the country.”
Just about the only thing McLemore didn’t execute well was the dunk that wouldn’t go down, though it turned out better for him anyway.
And just in case it was simply a matter of jitters running the play on the road for the first time, the Jayhawks went right back to it a few minutes later.
The second time around, McLemore pulled it off perfectly, essentially putting away the Buckeyes -- and maybe any doubts about what kind of staying power Kansas might have on the NCAA tournament road as well.