Buckeyes Advance to Elite Eight

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Front Page Columns and Features
Last updated: 03/23/2012 12:00 PM
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Men's Basketball
OSU Outlasts Cincinnati, Advances to First Elite Eight Since 2007

By Ben Axelrod

The third time was the charm.

After making exits in each of the past two tournament’s regional semifinals, the No. 2-seeded Ohio State men’s basketball team (30-7, 13-5 Big Ten) got over its Sweet 16 hump on Thursday night, defeating No. 6-seed Cincinnati (26-11, 12-6 Big East) 81-66. The Buckeyes’ victory advances them to their first Elite Eight appearance since 2007, where they’ll meet No. 1-seed Syracuse (34-2, 17-1 Big East).

Deshaun Thomas
Photo by Jim Davidson
Deshaun Thomas

For the third-consecutive game in this tournament, OSU forward Deshaun Thomas led the Buckeyes in scoring, pouring in 26 points to go along with seven rebounds. The OSU sophomore scored 20 of his points in the first half, pacing the Buckeyes to a 37-25 halftime lead. Thomas attributed his hot start to his mindset heading into the game.

“Having my mind right. I mean, trusting in coach and my teammates and hitting open spots. I was really good in that zone, flashing and kicking it down,” Thomas said. “Just getting in the open area and just knocking down shots, and that's what got me going.”

The Buckeyes couldn’t carry their momentum over to the second half, however, as they saw their lead completely evaporate- and eventually vanish all together. The Bearcats roared out of intermission on a 16-4 run to tie the game at 41 before Cincinnati guard Cashmere Wright answered a Jared Sullinger jumper with a 3-point shot to give the Bearcats a one-point lead just six minutes into the second half.

Jared Sullinger
Photo by Jim Davidson
Jared Sullinger

“We've got two types of basketball teams: We've got the cool guys and then the blue collar guys. I thought to start the second half we got into the cool guy mode and we kind of let our guard down,” Sullinger said. “Cincinnati is just the type of team that does not give up. I mean, we just came out and decided to be cool guys, and they came out and they stung us.”

Cincinnati would hold that lead for the next four minutes, but the Bearcats never managed to stretch it out to anymore than four points. With Cincinnati failing to pull away, the Buckeyes not only regained their lead, but pushed it back out to double-digits.

OSU went on a 17-1 run over the course of six minutes, giving the Buckeyes a 12-point lead with five minutes left in the game. The Bearcats never found themselves any closer than 10 points to the Buckeyes for the remainder of the way.

“Around that time I think we were in a one‑on‑one situation, so we were just trying to attack the basket and not settle for a good shot and turn down a good shot to get a great shot,” Sullinger said. “We just read their defense really well tonight, and you've got to give that to the coaches and putting us in situations where we can succeed.”

Aaron Craft
Photo by Jim Davidson
Aaron Craft

Sullinger recorded his second double-double of the tournament, scoring 23 points to go along with 11 rebounds, and sophomore guard Lenzelle Smith, Jr. added 15 points, including three made 3-point shots. But perhaps no performance was more impressive than that of OSU guard Aaron Craft, who recorded a school tournament record six steals in addition to scoring 11 points and recording five assists.

Craft and the Buckeyes will now turn their attention to Saturday’s regional finals matchup against the Boston region’s top-seed in Syracuse (7:05 PM, CBS). The Orange are coming off of a 64-63 win over No. 4-seed Wisconsin, and will be the highest ranked opponent that the Buckeyes have faced all season. But given the disappointing exits that his two prior teams have suffered, OSU coach Thad Matta is more than happy to have the opportunity to play for his first Final Four appearance since 2007.

“It's obviously a very, very good feeling to be down to eight tomorrow night, whenever the games end, with a lot at stake. I mean, so much is put on now, the NCAA Tournament,” Matta said. “I couldn't be happier for this team. If you would have told me in November this team was going to win 30 games, I would have said there's no way we're going to win 30 games. And to their credit, they've done a great job of putting us in this position.”

Box Score
NCAA Tournament Stats

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