Win over Loyola feels like loss

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Last updated: 03/16/2012 11:31 AM

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Men's Basketball
Loyola Win Feels Like Loss for Buckeyes
By Brandon Castel

PITTSBURGH — William Buford sat in the corner of Ohio State’s locker room with a look of frustration on his face.

The Buckeyes (28-7) had just defeated Loyola-Maryland by 19 points in the opening round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament, but inside the locker room, it didn’t feel like a win, a's t least not the kind of win this OSU team was hoping for to jumpstart a deep tournament run.

“We have to respond to this game as if we lost,” sophomore guard Lenzelle Smith, Jr. said.

For some reason, this team seems to respond better when its back is against the well—like being down two games with two to play, both of them on the road in the regular season.

Even as they open the tournament, the Buckeyes are still battling the thin line between finding confidence in themselves and coming into a game feeling overconfident. Sophomore Jared Sullinger attributed some of that to the youth of this squad, but not all of it.

“Whenever this team starts doing well, we tend to step back and admire ourselves,” Sullinger admitted after the game.

The Buckeyes are a No. 2-seed in the tournament and they were favored by 17 points in their opening-round game against 15-seed Loyola, a team most of the players on Ohio State's roster had never heard of.

“We weren't dialed in. We came out and saw who we were playing and, even from warm-ups, guys weren't taking it serious,” Smith said.

“But it was a wake up call. Saturday we know we’re not going to have a game like this.”

Not after the way 7-seed Gonzaga dismantled 10-seed West Virginia in its opening game of the tournament at the Consol Energy Center in downtown Pittsburgh.

“We know they are going to come out hard after us after watching a performance like this,” Smith said.

“They think we’re going to be vulnerable.”

Maybe they are.

If not for a historic performance from Deshaun Thomas, the Buckeyes would have found themselves in a fight for their lives against the Greyhounds Friday night.

The sophomore out of Fort Wayne, Ind. scored a career-high 31 points and grabbed 12 rebounds—one shy of tying a career-high—in Ohio State’s 78-59 win over Loyola. Thomas was 13-22 from the floor and scored from just about everywhere on the court, becoming just the fifth player in OSU history to score 30 points in an NCAA Tournament game.

“Deshaun was excellent on the boards and also scoring the basketball,” Sullinger said of Thomas, who joined Jerry Lucas as the only Buckeyes to go for 30 and 10 in the tournament.

“He pretty much carried this team. I don’t think we would have won it without him.”

In all likelihood, they would not have.

Take away Thomas, and the Buckeyes were just 13-36 (36%) as a team from the floor. They were 5-14 behind the arc, and turned the ball over 18 times, which led to 15 points for Loyola.

“Most of the guys don’t know what it takes,” said Buford, who was holding his puzzled look after scoring 17 points in the win.

“Most guys never even make it to the tournament.”

Maybe around the country, but at Ohio State it has become commonplace. So have high seeds and overmatched opponents, like the one they faced Friday. Even with 19 points from Erik Etherly, the team’s best player, the Greyhounds never had much of a chance against the Buckeyes.

They shot 35 percent from the floor, 4-14 behind the arc and were destroyed 49-24 on the board. They also had no answer for Thomas, who is averaging more than 20 points over his last seven games.

Ohio State is going to need a lot more than that to get past Gonzaga on Saturday (2:45 p.m. ET).

“We need to come in with a different mindset,” Buford said.

“To know that nothing else matters in your life at this moment. We just have to get focused and play harder. I don’t want to leave with (any) regrets. I want to play as hard as I can for as long as I’m out there and I want to play in the moment."

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