Clutch Three by Ross Sends Buckeyes Back to Elite Eight
By Brandon Castel
LOS ANGELES — Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft tossed the ball high into the air and Deshaun Thomas jumped up for a shoulder bump with LaQuinton Ross, the hero of Thursday night’s 73-70 win over Arizona.
With the game tied in the final seconds at the Staples Center, home of the NBA’s most clutch shooter, Ross fired a three from two steps behind the arc. Much like Craft’s game-winner against Iowa State last weekend, Ross’s dagger found the bottom of the net and propelled the Buckeyes back to the Elite Eight.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“He’s a great player and it’s great to see him knock that down,” said Craft, who scored 13 points and dished out five assists for the 2-seed Buckeyes on Thursday.
“As long as the ball gets in there, I couldn’t care less who shoots it.”
The play was actually designed to look similar to the one last week, when Craft rose up over Iowa State center Georges Niang for the game-winning three with 0.2 clicks on the clock.
The 6-seed Wildcats had been switching the high ball screen all game, but with Craft having the ball at the end, both defenders stayed with him. That left Ross open from behind the arc for the biggest shot of his life.
“We were thinking if we get a stop, we have a chance to win this game,” Arizona freshman Kaleb Tarczewski said.
“It was a great shot by Ross and it just wasn’t quite there. We were thinking, ‘we got this, it’s tied up, we’re on a little run. If we can just get this stop we’ll be fine.’
“They made a big shot.”
It was the second three of the game for Ross, who had allowed a three-point play at the other end when he fouled Mark Lyons on a layup with a three point lead in the final seconds.
“When I got the foul, I was kind of upset,” Ross admitted.
“My (teammates) grabbed me and told me calm down and worry about the next play. I was able to go down, able to run the play and execute.”
The sophomore out of Mississippi scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half as the Buckeyes rallied from a 38-34 deficit at halftime. They trailed by as many as 12 at one point in the first half, but Deshaun Thomas was able to keep his team in the game with timely scoring.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Thomas scored 16 of his team-high 20 points in the first half, and he drilled a big three with 1:12 to play in the half that put Ohio State down by four instead of seven at the break.
“I thought we were playing hard to start the game, we just weren't playing smart,” OSU head coach Thad Matta said afterward.
“Give Arizona credit. They came out and they were banging threes on us. We just weren't guarding the ball the way we needed to guard the ball. We weren't in position the way we needed to be in position.”
The Buckeyes misfired of five of their first six shots to start the game and fell behind 8-2 during the first 4-minute stretch of the game. Lyons opened the scoring for Arizona with a deep three over Craft, who wasn’t going to defend the former Xavier guard 25 feet from the basket.
Lyons continued his hot play from the first two rounds of the tournament, scoring 10 points on six shots in the first half. He finished with a game-high 23 on 6-12 shooting.
Ohio State went on a mini 9-4 run with Shannon Scott on the floor, cutting Arizona’s lead to one, at 12-11 with 13:11 to play first half. With the game being called tightly early on, the Wildcats were getting all the room they needed offensively.
Arizona made eight of its first 14 shots from the floor and led 22-17 when Craft picked up his second foul trying to strip the ball from Nick Johnson on a drive to the basket. Craft went to the bench and Arizona’s lead ballooned to 11, at 33-22, before Matta put his star point guard back on the floor.
“Earlier in my career I wouldn’t have been able to go back out there without picking up another foul,” the junior from Findlay said.
“But I’ve matured enough to realize that giving up two points is better than picking up that third foul, and I’m just able to be smarter about the decisions I make out there when I’m in that situation.”
With Craft on the floor, Ohio State responded with a quick 7-0 run to cut Arizona’s lead to five, at 33-28, with 4:02 to play in the half. Thomas did most of the heavily lifting for the Buckeyes in the first half, scoring 16 points on 6-11 shooting.
The Big Ten’s leading-scorer during the regular season knocked down a three in transition to make it a 38-34 game. That would be the score at the half, with the Buckeyes closing things out on a 12-5 run over the final six minutes of action.
Where the game swung was in the first five minutes of the second half. Ohio State came out looking like a different team than it had for most of the first 20 minutes. Defensively, the Buckeyes were getting up in Arizona’s shooters, and offensively they were sharing the ball.
Ohio State scored the first 10 points of the second half to take a 44-38 lead on Amir Williams’ layup at the 15:04 mark. The Buckeyes would extend their lead to eight on a great transition basket from Lenzelle Smith to Shannon Scott, and Thomas finally joined the action in the second half with a three that put them up by 10 with just over 11 minutes to play.
“We really were on our heels through … the first ten minutes of the second half,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said.
“The fact that I called as many timeouts as I did, I felt like our team was reeling. But to our team's credit, if you followed us, we've had a way of doing it. We hung in there, fought back, and at the end of the game it's 70‑70 on the last possession.”
It started with Solomon Hill, who scored nine straight points for the Wildcats after that three by Thomas. Arizona cut the lead to four on a layup by Hill at the 8:42 mark and Lyons made it a three-point game with a deep three at the 6:31 mark.
The Buckeyes still led by three with 1:07 on the clock when Lyons scored on a driving layup off the glass. He was fouled by Ross on the play and his free throw tied the game. That set up the final shot for Ross, who canned the open look of a pick-and-pop.
Lenzelle Smith tipped away the inbounds pass intended for Hill and the Buckeyes survived another heart-stopper to advance to the Elite Eight.
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