First Thoughts From Ohio State's 77-70 Win Over Syracuse in the East Regional Final
By Tony Gerdeman
When Jared Sullinger picked up his second foul of the first half at the 13:42 mark, I thought that Ohio State would have a tough time keeping the lead much longer. In fact, my thinking was that as long as they kept their future halftime deficit to around seven points, then they'd be relatively okay for the second half.
Photo by Jim Davidson
When Syracuse took their first lead at 22-21 with 9:31 to play, I felt like this was the moment where the Buckeyes couldn't afford to let the Orange go on a run. Ohio State must have felt the same way, because they turned their defensive intensity up and held Syracuse without a field goal for the next three and a half minutes.
Even though they lost Sullinger's offense, their defense hadn't really suffered any losses, and it showed. Syracuse only had four made field goals over the final eleven minutes of the first half—three were dunks and one was a layup.
The term "smothered" is too often thrown around by color commentators and Waffle House waitresses, but it would certainly apply to the defense that the Buckeyes were throwing out there on Saturday night.
The great thing about defense is that it never goes into a slump unless you want it to.
Now the Buckeyes are headed to the Final Four—one game away from playing for everything they've been working all season for. All they have to do is what they've been doing all along—defend and get scoring from three players.
The Final Four. This team has come a long way, and at one point they came from certain death. They finished the season on a .500 stretch that saw them knock themselves out of consideration for a #1 seed even had they won a Big Ten Tournament Championship.
Clearly, however, we are seeing the team that we thought we would see prior to that late slump. I don't know if a switch was flipped, or if the Buckeyes just finally got as serious as they needed to be for a change, but whatever it is, it's working, and it's working without the one guy that many fans thought would be necessary to get them to this point. But before we start to blast William Buford, let's not forget that he did pull down nine rebounds, and all three of his made field goals came at good times.
The offensive diversification that the Buckeyes have acquired of late has made Buford's slump much easier to handle than I thought initially possible. Now it's almost like a part of the gameplan and Thad Matta just coaches around it.
Buford has one or two games left in his collegiate career. I am expecting him to step his game up next week in order to get that second game in on Monday.
Photo by Jim Davidson
This was the best game of Lenzelle Smith's career, and I'm even including his 28-point outburst against Indiana earlier in the season.
The reason this performance was better is because it happened in the Tournament and he did it in the most clutch of ways.
His second three-pointer of the second half put the Buckeyes back up by six points, and his third put them up by four after Syracuse cut it to just one point.
There was also his sweet teardrop floater that made it 62-55 with 3:15 to play. It was Ohio State's second-to-last field goal of the game. The bulk of their remaining points came from the foul line.
Oh, and speaking of the foul line, Smith was 4-4 from the charity stripe in the final minute of the game, and his defense wasn't bad either.
The quickness with which Smith shot the ball tonight tells you of the confidence that he has in himself. He was 0-4 in the first half, but he was clearly not bothered by that number, because he then went 4-6 in the second half.
At a time when one scorer's confidence has disappeared (William Buford), another's appears to be taking off with jet fuel laced acceleration. It couldn't be happening at a better time for the Buckeyes.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Losing Jared Sullinger in the first half should have been an opportunity for Syracuse to build something, but it never happened.
The Buckeyes as a team stepped up and together they withstood a defense that they didn't want to face without their best player. They did the best they could, and that includes freshman Amir Williams, who looked like he had played against Syracuse's defense several times this season.
Ohio State struggled on nearly every offensive possession, but they never let their frustration take over. They remained patient and looked for the best shot available.
One area that they seemed to neglect, however, was the lob to Williams, which appeared to be open most of the first half.
I wasn't surprised that Williams didn't play in the second half because that's just not Thad Matta's way. If it's not for foul trouble, Williams just doesn't see the court in close games. However, he could have certainly been used in the second half when the Orange had a couple of layups in a row. He would have erased them both.
Don't think it's a coincidence that Syracuse stopped driving in the first half and started forcing up contested perimeter jumpers. Williams' presence down low was a factor, and it may have been the single biggest factor in keeping Ohio State from trailing at the half.
College basketball referees might be the worst people on the planet. The anticipatory whistles are one of my least favorite things about my least favorite people. They don't call stuff that they see, they call things that they think they're about to see.
Aaron Craft's double dribble was a perfect example of that. The fact that it came from an official who was behind Craft and who couldn't have had a good view of his bad call is only further proof of their anticipatory nature.
The bottom line is that they take away from the game and determine far too many outcomes with their inadequacies. It takes away from the game, and cheapens it as well. How much can you invest in a game when you know that the actual outcome might never be decided by the players on the court?
So yeah, I'm still feeling pretty good about my pick that Jared Sullinger would be the Buckeye who determines how far this team goes.
He took over in the second half and Syracuse had no answer for him. Fortunately for Ohio State, the referees didn't call him for putting his head down and initiating contact, which was pretty surprising to me.
Sullinger scored 15 points in the second half and was the ultimate difference for the Buckeyes.
Photo by Jim Davidson
I thought the Buckeyes would need a much better shooting performance from Deshaun Thomas to win this comfortably. He was supposed to be the answer to the zone defense, yet he only finished 6-14 from the field and missed some very makeable shots.
Thomas scored a "quiet" 14 points tonight, but had his normal shots dropped, it would have been a very loud 23 or so.
The minutes following William Buford making his first shot, you could tell that he wanted to take another shot to see if this was actually real and happening. Then he took another shot and made it and you could see him wanting to confirm even more definitively if this was in fact real.
However, instead of forcing things, he was patient in the offense and didn't just jack shots up as some sort of heat check.
Though now that I think about it, maybe he should have. His patience led to him finishing the game on a 1-10 stretch.
I wonder if we can get Guinness on the phone and confirm that the last minute of this game was actually the world's slowest.
It lasted forever. It was so slow that it probably came straight from the Big Ten offices.
But again, the credit goes to the Buckeyes for continuing to defend—once it got close, anyway, and they hit enough clutch free throws to keep Syracuse at arm's length. They never gave them the hope that they were desperately wanting.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Aaron Craft might leave Ohio State as its most popular basketball player ever—and it may not even be close.
As those who cover him have run out of superlatives for him, so have opponents run out of expletives for him.
He is quite simply, The Most Annoying Man in the World.
"He doesn't always drink beer, but when he does, he's probably drinking yours."
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