NEW ORLEANS -- Jeff Withey destroyed Jared Sullinger on Saturday night, destroyed him in every way one player can destroy another. On the other hand, Jeff Withey probably did Sullinger a favor. Because if Withey can reduce Sullinger to a puddle of pouting goo, imagine what Kentucky's Anthony Davis would have done to Sullinger on Monday night.
Ah well, we don't have to worry about that. Withey took care of Sullinger, and because he took care of Sullinger in such destructive fashion, Kansas took care of Ohio State, winning their national semifinal 64-62 to set up a date with Kentucky for the title.
Withey scored only four points and had four turnovers, but his fingerprints were all over this victory for Kansas. Kind of like his fingerprints were all over Sullinger's shots, not to mention shots by a few other Buckeyes. When all was said and done, Withey had set a national semifinal record with seven blocked shots -- bettering the record of another Jayhawk, Danny Manning, who had six in 1988 against Duke -- and had affected a good many more.
"I was just in the right place at the right time," Withey said, fooling himself maybe but nobody else. Because when all was said and done, Jeff Withey had been the single biggest factor in the Jayhawks' victory.
The box score might not say as much. The box score will say, in fact, that Sullinger outscored Withey 13 to four, and that Sullinger outrebounded Withey 11 to eight.
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But the box score isn't fooling anybody, either, because Withey destroyed him. Sullinger took 19 shots and made only five.
"Big fella here played as good of low-post defense on a great player as he could," Kansas coach Bill Self said of Withey's defense on Sullinger. "Not only got seven blocks, but altered four or five at least."
Withey had help from Robinson and reserve Kevin Young, the three of them ganging up to hold Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas to 22 points on 33 shots in 62 minutes.
"I could barely see," Sullinger said. "I couldn't see over a 7-footer, and a 6-10 guy [Robinson]."
For Withey, it was a repeat of his mastery in the Midwest Regional title game against North Carolina, which he took over in the final two minutes by blocking a shot by John Henson and then another by Stilman White. When that run began, Kansas clung to a 71-67 lead. The final score was 80-67. North Carolina didn't score again, and while Withey didn't do all of that, he led it.
Same as Saturday, when he immediately inserted himself into Sullinger's cranium by blocking Sullinger's first shot, which was also Ohio State's first shot. Early in the second half Withey forcibly removed Sullinger from the game by blocking his shot three times in 40 seconds. Don't get me wrong, Sullinger didn't leave the game. He kept playing.
He just wasn't any good.
In the second half, Sullinger was 2 of 11 from the floor. He was so out of sorts, he was jacking 3-pointers and 20-footers and flopping like a fish for phantom fouls and gesturing to referees and whining to his coach -- and to Thad Matta's credit, he was having none of it.
After one particularly ridiculous stretch for Sullinger, when Withey blocked him and blocked him again and again and was so far into Sullinger's head that his next touch started 20 feet from the basket and ended in the same spot, with a 20-foot brick, Sullinger saw his shot floating errantly toward the rim and dove like a Spanish soccer player, punctuating the flop by slamming his arm on the floor. The sound effect didn't work, and neither did Sullinger's whining and gesticulating to the refs, and when a timeout was called shortly thereafter and Sullinger whined his way to the bench, he found no comfort there. Matta was red-faced and yelling at him, looking stunned that his All-American, his future NBA power forward was reduced to such shenanigans by a rail-thin red-shirt junior like Jeff Withey.
About that NBA stuff ...
No chance. Sullinger has no chance in that league. I mean, he'll get drafted by someone and he'll stick on a roster, but he won't be a great pro, or even a very good one. Not as his game and body are currently configured, with low-post offense as close to the rim -- and below it, usually -- as he can get. That stuff works in college, or at least it works against some post players, but it didn't work against Jeff Withey and it won't work in the NBA. The NBA general manager that spends a high lottery pick on Sullinger is a GM who must have been sleeping Saturday night and then failed to get his hands on the tape.
Because the tape don't lie.
Jeff Withey destroyed Sullinger, got so far into his head that Sullinger was useless -- and pointless -- in the final 5½ minutes when Kansas was rallying from a six-point deficit to win. In that span, Sullinger missed a layup with 4:39 left and he missed a jumper with 3:19 left and then he just didn't shoot again. Ohio State was trying to hold off Kansas, and it chose to do that by giving shots to anyone but All-American Jared Sullinger.
Jeff Withey did that.
But he did more than that. With 1:42 left and Ohio State leading 59-58, Buckeyes guard Aaron Craft blew past Kansas' Tyshawn Taylor and honed in on the rim, where his layup found no iron, only the hand of Withey.
Less than 30 seconds later, with Kansas now leading 60-59, Withey was 20 feet from the basket, defending Sullinger -- who wanted no part of the lane anymore -- when the ball went to OSU guard William Buford. With an unabated path to the rim, Buford went up for a layup and watched helplessly as Withey swooped in from behind, swatting the shot off the rim and over the hoop. That led to a fast break the other way, one Elijah Johnson consummated with a driving bucket for a 62-59 lead with 1:10 left.
"The block on Buford was unbelievable," Self said. "They had us. He turns two points for Ohio State into two points for us."
That's a four-point swing right there.
Kansas won by two.
See my point here? Kansas won Saturday to reach the national championship game -- and Jeff Withey did that.