Behind the most opportunistic of breakout performances from super sub LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State, Deshaun Thomas, and Aaron Craft helped the Buckeyes advance to their fourth straight Sweet 16 after defeating Iowa State, 78-75. Ross alone at one stretch scored 10 straight points for the Buckeyes, and Thomas was his usual brilliant offensive self en route to the nail biting victory in which there were 16 lead changes.
Iowa State gave it their all and kept things close to the very end, but even though Ohio State were inconsistent from the charity stripe, a critical Aaron Craft buzzer beater helped Ohio State advance. Former Michigan State Final Four point guard Korie Lucious led the way for the Cyclones with 19 and Will Clyburn gave the Buckeyes fits for the better part of the afternoon (17 points, 4 rebounds). Melvin Ejim was a double-double guy (10 points, 11 rebounds) for Fred Hoiberg's bunch.
There's plenty that can be said of what easily is the game of the 2013 tournament to point, but let's start with a thousand words summarizing the end game first:
Before we got to that point though, Dayton played host to a gritty, unevenly officiated (or maybe evenly – just in a negative sense for both sides) 40 minutes of basketball. Iowa State, without question, came out immensely resolved, showing the same caliber of play they did in both of their near misses against Kansas.
Ohio State won the opening tip and behind a quick Deshaun Thomas jumper, appeared primed for the kind of start they wanted... until Iowa State countered with the frantic, attack basketball Iona had wanted to play against the Buckeyes, but were often defensively pressured out of being able to execute.
After a fast paced early back and forth, a long Sam Thompson jumper answer reduced a surprise early Ohio State deficit to 7-4. The dark side of Ohio State's offense reared its ugly head in the first four minutes of action, and the Buckeyes found themselves just 2-for-6 from the field.
The Buckeyes would bounce back, however. A successfully converted , tough Deshaun Thomas two would close the gap to 9-8, and in the process DT would pass Terrence Dials for 13th on the school's all-time leading scorers list. A fancy Shannon Scott swipe and lay in would help Ohio State keep the momentum headed in their general direction. But almost as quickly as he'd helped aid and abet the effort, a taunting technical on Scott after the play would give Iowa State the opportunity to counter it.
The two sides would continue frantic back and forth sequences with the primary differentiator between the two sides being turnovers from the Cyclones (they had over six in the first 10 minutes alone) and poor rebounding positioning by the Buckeyes. At one juncture, with just over two and a half minutes to play in the first half, the Buckeyes found themselves being out rebounded 23-11.
While ISU's Chris Babb would need medical attention just before the end of the half and never be quite good to go the remainder of the contest, the Bucks would have to thank their lucky stars they were leading given how poorly they'd been rebounding. Up 38-36, Ohio State were managing to match ISU's break neck tempo, but were just being completely crushed on the glass (24-13 margin). Shannon Scott, the +/- hero of the Ohio State's now ten game winning streak, was up to his old tricks as well, recording a +10 through 20 minutes of play (an average of +11.5 including that half and the Buckeyes' previous nine victories).
Lucious came out swinging for the Cyclones to start the second, hitting a shot to instantly give ISU the lead. The Buckeyes would quickly rally back, and behind a Lenzelle Smith 3 (that OSU fans had to be objecting to given his poor shooting in the first half), the Bucks found themselves back with a 6-point lead. Iowa State would continue to chip away at the margin, but Ohio State seemingly kept digging deep to preserve their advantage.
LaQuinton Ross had the breakout 10 minutes of his career midway through the second, going on a one-man 10-5 run and helping the Buckeyes get the lead up to 65-53, the largest margin of the second half. But after a suspect foul call on Lenzelle Smith, despite missing the subsequent one-and-one lead free throw, ISU seemed to have new life.
In what felt straight out of Ohio State's gut-wrenching first round loss to Siena back in 2009, that double digit lead began to slowly but surely evaporate. A couple of Johnny-on-the-spot threes from the Cyclones closed the gap and another by Tyrus McGee would give them their first lead since early in the half, 72-71.
ISU would get things up to a 73-71 margin before each team would take turns making shots, missing free throws (Craft particularly was dreadful down the stretch), or committing ill timed turnovers. A critical Deshaun Thomas steal down the stretch would prove almost as timely as Craft's ultimate game winner – which was made all the more impressive by the fact that Thomas was battling cramping issues towards the end of the game.
With Ohio State having the ball with 29.9 to play and the shot clocked turned off, the ball would be left in the hands of Craft. He'd say after the contest he was looking to get the ball to Thomas, but with no such opportunity there, he ultimately elected to either win the game or send it to overtime. He'd do the former.
What seemed in real time like a poor decision given Craft's shaky shooting much of the afternoon (and historically from distance), the attempt splashed. Instantaneously Craft's already held in high regard legacy was multiplied to next level status in Ohio State basketball lore. Matta joked after the game that they should erect a statue outside Value City Arena.
The Buckeyes now head to Los Angeles, where they'll meet former Thad Matta assistant Sean Miller and the Arizona Wildcats. Arizona's arguably been the most impressive team in a topsy-turvy West Region. The two teams will face off Thursday evening from the Staples Center with the winner advancing to the Elite Eight to take on the winner of Ole Miss/La Salle and plucky Wichita State.
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