Any notions the Washington Huskies (2-2) entertained about beating a highly ranked team for the first time since 2007 evaporated Sunday about the time Ohio State’s preseason All-America choice DeShaun Thomas started shooting the ball. Thomas knocked down 21 of his 31 points in the first half and the Buckeyes outclassed the Huskies 77-66 in the Tip-Off Holiday Classic in Uncasville, CT.
Washington hasn’t defeated a team ranked No. 4 or higher since March 3, 2007, when it upset No. 2 UCLA. Although the Huskies played Ohio State even through the first 10 minutes, even taking an 18-17 lead at that point, the quality of the Buckeyes, a Final Four team last year, asserted finally itself as the defending Big Ten champions held leads up to 17 points the rest of the way.
Ohio State didn’t dominate Washington, which occasionally sliced the Buckeyes’ lead to single digits in the second half, but every time the Huskies came close in the final 20 minutes, Ohio State extended its lead.
“We’d cut it (Ohio State’s lead) down to eight and seven and we’d miss a shot or have a turnover and give them a basket,” said point guard Abdul Gaddy, who scored 15 points and had a memorable matchup with Ohio State preseason All-America pick Aaron Craft. “We just couldn’t get over the hump. I thought we played them strong. They are a really good team and we learned a lot by playing them.”
As Thomas made his first nine shots, Ohio State inched ahead, taking a 41-31 lead at intermission.
The Huskies couldn’t do much of anything offensively against the Buckeyes before intermission, getting next-to-nothing in the paint and nothing in transition. They were reduced to firing long-range jumpers with hands in their faces.
“That’s a very sold team,” said head coach Lorenzo Romar. “They are not going to beat themselves. Defensively they don’t give you a lot, so you just can’t make a mistake with those guys.
“Every time I thought we were going to make a run, we’d miss a free throw or something. If we could have done a better job early on Thomas, we could have built a lead and they’d have to play from behind. But it didn’t happen.”
In constructing the halftime lead, Ohio State had five steals and one turnover while Washington had zero steals and six turnovers.
The Huskies closed to within 44-39 with 17:18 left on a 3-pointer by Gaddy, but the Buckeyes quickly built it back to 10 points and finally to 17, Ohio State’s largest lead. UW helped the Buckeyes pad their lead by clanking two wide-open layups and turning the ball over by failing to get the ball inbounds.
Thomas’ 31 points tied a career high and Craft finished with 18 after making all eight of his free throws. He also had four assists and two steals.
“He really knows how to lead his team,” said Gaddy. “He lets his guys know what they have to do and he makes his players better.”
C.J. Wilcox led Washington with 18 points (made four of eight from 3-point range), and Gaddy managed 15 despite being saddled with four fouls. Aziz N’Diaye also played with four fouls and finished with nine points and 11 rebounds, just missing his third double-double.
Washington actually outshot Ohio State, 47.9 percent to 47.4, but the Buckeyes more than compensated by collecting 12 offensive rebounds to Washington’s six.
Despite missing a chance to beat a highly-ranked team, Romar said, “I’m really excited about our team. We have something to build on after these two games (also a win over Seton Hall Saturday), and I think we’re going to get better. This trip allowed us to see some things that will help us get better. I’m looking forward to the home stand we have coming up.”
“I think we’re on our way,” Gaddy added. “We have a really good shooting team. I think the main thing we have to shore up is on our defensive principles and make sure that we come up with a big play at the right time. Playing these games here will help us get ready for all the games we have left.”
The Huskies return home at 4:30 Saturday to face Colorado State. Washington’s next “road game” is Dec. 13, playing Seattle U. at KeyArena. Washington’s next game away from Seattle is Dec. 29, when the Huskies return to Connecticut to meet UConn in Storrs.
NOTES: The last time UW played against a team ranked as high as No. 4 was Nov. 24, 2010 in the Maui Invitational against No. 2 Michigan St. . . . Washington is 9-19 against top-10 teams under Romar and have lost the last six.