Buckeyes Down 'Cuse To Advance To New Orleans

The Ohio State men's basketball team completed an up-and-down season with an up-and-down win Saturday to reach the Final Four. The Buckeyes downed Syracuse 77-70 to capture the East Region and qualify for the national semifinals, to be staged next weekend in New Orleans. The game was full of plot twists and emotion but OSU came out on top in the end.

In a game that provided a thrill – or at least a talking point – per minute, the end result for the Ohio State men's basketball team was just one thing worth mentioning.

The Buckeyes are going to the Final Four.

There were stunning refereeing decisions, runs galore, great defense, big shots and even four stitches, applied both during and after the game to Ohio State guard Lenzelle Smith Jr.

But all that mattered in the end were two numbers – 77-70, the Buckeyes' final advantage over top-seeded Syracuse as they clinched the 11th Final Four in school history and second under head coach Thad Matta by capturing the East Region championship.

"Excitement," point guard Aaron Craft said. "Right now I think we're doing a good job of sticking together, understanding that's what this is about, and I'm just really proud of these guys for sticking together. Hopefully, we can come out and play good basketball next week, as well."

Immediately after the game, Matta took to a hastily erected podium to thank the Ohio State fans among the 19,026 fans in attendance.

"We will see you in New Orleans," Matta said, inciting a roar that was soon joined by the school pep band's rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In."

Given a few moments of reflection, the eighth-year head coach was effusive in his praise for his squad.

"I'm very proud of these guys and what they've been able to accomplish thus far in the season," he said.

And why wouldn't he be? The Buckeyes rescued a season that looked lost in February when the team lost three of five games, the latter a 63-60 final to Wisconsin on Senior Day vs. Wisconsin that laid bare the team's problems both on and off the court.

Fast forward less than a month, however, and it was clear this win was a team effort. Four Ohio State players reached double figures for the fourth straight game, led by 19 points from Jared Sullinger despite the big man spent more than 13 minutes on the bench in the first half with foul trouble.

In his stead, Ohio State got contributions from all over the floor, none bigger than the 18 points put in by blistering guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. Deshaun Thomas added 14 points and nine rebounds, while William Buford had 13 points and nine more boards.

Then there were the other contributions, such as five points, four assists, one steal and the usual excellent defense out of Craft. Amir Williams played nine minutes and had three points and four rebounds while Evan Ravenel, Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson also did their part.

"Everybody kind of pulled together, and it's something we've been preaching with this basketball team," Matta said.

The Buckeyes needed all of those contributions as a game Syracuse squad, which fell to only 34-3, pushed Ohio State to its limit. After struggling offensively in the early going, the Orange put together a pair of spirited comebacks in the second half only to fall short.

"I thought we fought as hard as we have all year," head coach Jim Boeheim said. "But I give Ohio State a ton of credit. They played really, really well. They've got a great basketball team and they deserved to win."

Ohio State's biggest minutes might have been those played without Sullinger. The big man was a beast in the early going, going 2 for 4 from the floor with six points and four rebounds before picking up his second foul – a highly debatable one at that – with just 6:18 gone.

When Dion Waiters make the free throw to complete the and-one, Ohio State's lead held a 13-11 lead. While the teams traded the advantage throughout the rest of the first half, the Orange never got further away than two points and the teams went into the break tied at 29.

Neither team shot well, with the Orange going 10 for 28 (35.7 percent) and OSU even worse at 34.5 percent (10 for 29). Thomas and Buford tied for OSU-high scoring honors in the first half with six apiece, while point guard Scoop Jardine led Syracuse with seven points in the first half and sunk a pair of three-pointers.

With a rested Sullinger ready to go, Ohio State pulled away in the second half. The Buckeyes quickly built a 10-point lead in the second half. Ohio State went ahead for good on two free throws by Buford with 18:16 left, points that started a 13-3 run that included two field goals by Sullinger, four points by Smith, three by Buford and two more by Thomas.

Syracuse got the lead down to one point twice with around seven minutes left, but the Buckeyes hit a string of important shots to push it back to as much as eight in the final minute. Particularly big baskets were a three-pointer by Smith that extended OSU's lead from one to four and a floater by Smith that made it 62-55, points that bookended five straight points by Sullinger.

Things really looked good when Thomas hit a tough shot along the baseline with 1:47 left to make it a six-point game. The Orange made the last few minutes harrowing, getting it down to a one-possession game at one point, but Ohio State made 13 of 14 foul shots in the last 1:08 to ice the victory.

Ohio State will play the winner of tomorrow's Kansas-North Carolina contest next Saturday in New Orleans.

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