Shock and Awe
Buckeyes Fold Against 9-Seed Wichita State in Elite Eight
By Brandon Castel
LOS ANGELES — Brackets are not always as easy as they look, a lesson Ohio State found out the hard way on Saturday.
The 2-seed Buckeyes were favored to be the better team in their matchup with 9-seed Wichita State when the two teams met in the West regional final at the Staples Center.
In fact, they seemed the be the favorites to play their way back to Atlanta, and to the Final Four, the moment this year’s bracket was announced. To get there, Ohio State needed to beet a 15 seed, a 10 seed, a 6 seed and a 9 seed.
They weren’t counting on a 9-seed like Wichita State.
Shocker defenders surround Aaron Craft
Photo by Jim Davidson
The Shockers, who already upset No. 1-seed Gonzaga, controlled the game for 30 minutes on Saturday. They outrebounded, out-hustled and outplayed the Buckeyes in a 70-66 upset that will send Wichita State to the Final Four.
"We weren't able in the first half to draw the line and get the stops, get the bucket when we needed,” OSU’s ninth-year head coach Thad Matta said.
“You’re not going to win in the Elite Eight shooting 24 percent in the first half.”
The Buckeyes appeared to be caught off guard by the physicality of their Elite Eight opponent. They shot 32 percent for the game and made only five of their 25 attempts from behind the arc.
“The way we shot the ball coming into the Elite Eight and Sweet Sixteen, everything was falling, but just today wasn't our night,” said Deshaun Thomas, who scored a game-high 23 points on 20 shots.
“Nothing was falling. We tried to keep our spirits up. We were believing in ourselves. Coach said, ‘They're going to fall, just be patient.’ We had great looks, some of them, but they just weren't falling.”
For much of the game, the Shockers displayed overwhelming power, dominant defense and spectacular displays of force to paralyze Ohio State’s will to fight. They took a 13-point lead into halftime, and built it up to 20 before the Buckeyes finally came to life.
With Deshaun Thomas and LaQuinton Ross leading the way, Ohio State scrambled to cut Wichita State’s lead down to three with less than three to play. There was simply too much to overcome.
“We tried,” said point guard Aaron Craft, who finished with seven rebounds and nine points on 2-12 shooting.
“They did a phenomenal job. They got a shot blocker down there that blocked quite a few shots in the first half, and that really kind of had us on our heels.
Ohio State missed its first seven shots to start the game as Lenzelle Smith and Deshaun Thomas misfired from every angle. Thomas clanked his first five shots off the rim and the Buckeyes trailed 4-0 before Smith finally connected on a jumper from behind the arc.
They trailed 7-3 in the early going, but quickly ripped off a 6-0 run to take a 9-7 lead with 14:07 to play in the first half. That was about as good as it would ever get for the Buckeyes, as they would not lead again in this game.
They were able to stay in the game for most of the first half, despite making just six of their first 26 shots from the floor, but eventually the lack of offensive firepower caught up with Ohio State.
“We didn't score in transition at all today, and that's been our calling card throughout this run, getting stops and scoring in transition,” Craft said.
“We didn't score at all. We really didn't get very many easy buckets tonight and it shows.”
The Buckeyes had a stretch of nearly five and a half minutes without a field goal near the end of the first half, and they trailed by 11 when Aaron Craft picked up his second foul with 1:14 to play in the half.
Craft stayed in the game, but it didn’t matter. The Buckeyes fell behind by 13 and they would go to the lockers trailing 35-22 at the half. Ohio State shot just 24 percent from the first half and went 2-10 behind the arc. The Buckeyes were outrebounded 27-17 and did not score a single point off any of the five Wichita State turnovers.
Thomas led the way with nine points in the first half, but he was just 4-13 from the field and 0-5 from long long-distance. His teammates were a combined 4-20 from the floor, and no other OSU player made more than one basket over the first 20 minutes.
“We could never knock a couple down. We couldn't string together a couple of positive possessions that would enable us to mix it up a little bit,” Matta said.
“When you're shooting as poorly as we were, you're just trying to find something to become contagious. We never got that.”
Ohio State was outscored 16-9 to start the second half, and the Buckeyes found themselves down by 20 with 12:39 to play in the game. It looked like Wichita State was going to run them right out of the building, but the Buckeyes weren’t going to go down that easily. LaQuinton Ross hit a pair of free throws to cut the lead to 13 with 9:08 to play, and Ohio State would go on a 23-6 run to make it a three-point game with under three to play.
It started with Thomas, who scored three straight baskets to cut the lead to single digits for the first time since the five-minute mark of the first half. Ross hit a three and knocked in two layups, trimming the lead to five with 3:13 to play.
“I thought Ross was really a key for them in their comeback,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said.
“He was dynamic in the ability to make threes, put it on the floor. He got to the line 10 times; I'm not sure he's done that all year.”
Ross missed a shot that would have cut the lead to three, but Shannon Scott grabbed the rebound and hit both free throws to make it 62-59 with 2:48 to play. But Ross fell asleep on defense at the other end, leaving Tekele Cotton open for a three that pushed Wichita’s lead back to six.
Ohio State continued to battle furiously, but the Buckeyes could never get the lead under four. They had a chance when Fred VanVleet misfired on a three at the 1:34 mark in a four-point game, but Cotton snuck inside for the offensive rebound.
VanVleet would hit the next jumper on a shot that bounced around the rim before falling in, and Craft misfired on a three early in the shotclock to all but finish off the Buckeyes.
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