With a typically brilliant offensive showing by Deshaun Thomas, another strong effort from LaQuinton Ross (who hit the game winning shot), the leadership of Aaron Craft, and a gritty, "glue guy" performance from Lenzelle Smith Jr., Ohio State advanced to their second Elite EIght in as many years defeating the Arizona Wildcats. Sean Miller's team managed to keep things tight down the stretch, but Ohio State never trailed again after taking a 40-38 lead.
Ohio State trailed 33-22 at one juncture, but a 22-5 run that began just before half-time and encompassed the early part of the second half set the tone for a Buckeye controlled final 20 minutes. Solomon Hill seemed to come into his own for Arizona and Nick Johnson was opportunistic for the Wildcats. U of A star Mark Lyons had a long stretch of quiet offense, but still was able to help pace the 'Cats in the losing effort.
The Buckeyes won the game's opening tip, but Arizona quickly showed why they were arguably the hottest team in the West Region going into this one. Ohio State failed to look sharp in the opening minutes, and a pair of opportunistic threes gave U of A a quick lead.
By the under sixteen timeout, the Buckeyes had chipped the lead to 8-4 with Thomas shouldering the load, not unexpected in a time when the Buckeyes weren't shooting well as a whole. With Lyons and Smith Jr getting a bit chippy in the early going, Ohio State would have to bounce back from an 0-for-4 from guys not named Deshaun Thomas beginning to jumpstart their designs on a second straight Elite Eight berth.
Unlike the Iowa State game, the Buckeyes controlled their destiny on the glass in the early goings, but couldn't seem to match Arizona's hot start shooting the ball. On their first fourteen attempts, the Wildcats knocked down eight of those. Thomas' 11 helped to keep the Buckeyes in it, but Arizona's lead hovered around 6-8.
Though Arizona was outshooting the Buckeyes by almost 17%, Ohio State (who'd been without Aaron Craft due to two early fouls – and arguably suspect ones at that), reinserted their junior hardwood quarterback and ripped off a strong counter punch to close the half. Thomas led the effort for the Buckeyes with 16, but the rest of his teammates combined for just 18 on 5-for-19 shooting.
In addition to making basically every look they got, Arizona was 9-for-10 from the charity stripe at the intermission, and a strong rebounding final few minutes of the first half helped them to seize that margin, 15-12. The Bucks also weren't doing a very efficient job of sharing the ball with just 12 of their first half makes coming on assists.
After many took the roles of Smith Jr. and shot-in-the-arm Shannon Scott out of context during the past week in an effort to lobby for more playing for the latter, Smith Jr. opened the second half with four quick (and dynamic) baskets. Scott, who'd averaged +11.2 during the Buckeyes' previous ten wins, exemplified why that metric in particular struggles to be representative at small sample sizes or accurately reflect situational playing time differences between guys (Scott goes against backups far more than Smith, and Smith is considerably more versatile in terms of the kinds of guys he can put a body on defensively). The Buckeyes' sophomore backup point guard struggled considerably defensively in the first half, where as Smith, who was having early issues shooting the ball, also pulled down 5 critical boards.
Scott did however bounce back to add some to the box score offensively later on in the second half, and so too did his teammates. With Ohio State en route to a 22-5 run, Arizona went over 7 minutes without so much as a point. But while Ohio State had ballooned their lead to a game high 8 with just over 11 minutes to go, Hill would start a one man 7-2 run that would help get that lead back more mangeable.
A dunk and-one for the 'Cats would reduce the lead to 53-48, and with Ohio State's small lineup continuing to struggle against the rangy, athletic, longer tweeners populating U of A's five, the lead would fall to 60-57 after Lyons woke up and nailed a key three for Sean Miller's bunch.
Ross' second half can't be praised enough, though. Of his 17, 14 came in the second half, and he a number of key sequences down the stretch for the Buckeyes. With Ross and Thomas continuing to do just about everything offensively for the Buckeyes, though his guys were giving it their all to close the gap, Miller did his guys no favors by burning his final time out with 2:35 to play – an eternity in a game like this.
The final two minutes would prove far more dramatic than Ohio State wanted them to be after some clutch makes from Arizona. After an athletic LaQuinton Ross move got Ohio State's lead to 69-63 with 1:20 to play, following a Lyons made layup and a Craft missed one, Ross would almost undo all the good will he'd accrued by fouling Lyons on a drive and make that would give the Wildcats point guard a chance to tie with 21 seconds to play. He'd seize the moment.
With Aaron Craft in possession of the ball, thoughts of Sunday's dramatic game winner had to be flowing through OSU fans' heads. They'd get a near repeat, but this time with Ross playing the hero. In what had to be one of the more controversial elements of a game that was extremely over-officiated early, the refs would give Arizona a de facto sixth second half timeout by electing to review Ross' almost NBA range three pointer to make sure it was in fact a three. Fortunately for Ohio State, Arizona's last ditch heave attempt would be ill conceived and result in a turnover to clinch the game for OSU.
The Buckeyes now take on the ninth seeded WIchita State Shockers on Saturday evening, who Friday evening defeated 13th seeded La Salle, 72-58. The Shockers previously upset the one seed in the West Region, the Gonzaga Bulldogs. as well as the eight seed, Pittsburgh. Thad Matta and the Buckeyes will be seeking a return trip to the Final Four while Gregg Marshall and the Shockers will be looking to make their first in the modern era and the school's first since 1965.
|SMITH JR.,LENZELLE *||6||2||3||8||1||1||1||2||7||2||2||1||35||15|