Ohio State is headed to New Orleans this weekend for the Final Four. After defeating Cincinnati 81-66 in the Sweet Sixteen on Thursday night, the Buckeyes defeated 1 seed Syracuse on Saturday 77-70 to advance to the national semifinals. It will be the Buckeyes’ first appearance in the Final Four since 2007 when they made it to the national championship game where they were defeated by the Florida Gators.
Thursday night’s game started off well for the Buckeyes. At the half, they led the Bearcats by 12. But in Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger’s words, the “cool guys” came out of the locker room after halftime, and Cincinnati took advantage by going on a 19-4 run early in the second half. With about 11 and a half minutes to go, the Bearcats had a 52-48 lead, and the atmosphere of the game was one all too familiar to those in Buckeye Nation, who have seen Ohio State get knocked out of the NCAA tournament in the Sweet Sixteen each of the last two years. But OSU head coach Thad Matta was determined not to have that be the fate of this team. He called time out, and after that, the Buckeyes locked down on defense. They also scored 17 of the games next 18 points to secure the victory. In this particular game, the Buckeyes were led by Sullinger who scored 23 points and hauled in 11 boards & DeShaun Thomas who had 24 points of his own. Thomas has been sensational throughout the tournament, who has scored 89 points thus far.
The win against the Bearcats set up an Elite Eight regional final in Boston on Saturday with the Syracuse Orange. This match up was particularly intriguing, given the fact that Syracuse runs a zone defense and the Buckeyes have struggled with shooting at times this season. But once again, Ohio State came up with the victory. Despite the fact that Sullinger missed the majority of the first half due to foul trouble, the Buckeyes were able to come up with a 77-70 win to punch their ticket to the Final Four this weekend. He came back in the second half and finished with 19 points and 7 boards. Thomas added 14 points and 9 boards for the Bucks.
With just about a minute to go, they led the Orange by 8. But a few quick baskets had the lead quickly cut to 3. However, the Buckeyes were able to convert free throws to preserve the victory. They were 13 of 14 from the line in the last 68 seconds of the game and hit 31-42 for the entire game.
Had someone said that Ohio State would reach the Final Four at the end of the regular season in February, many would not have taken it seriously. They suffered three losses (including two at home to Michigan State and Wisconsin) in five games and were failing to play as a team. But it was the Wisconsin loss that was the turning point for this team according to Matta. ”That loss opened their eyes and said, ‘Hey, maybe we’re not as good as we think we are. Maybe it got us pointed in the right direction,” Matta said after the game on Saturday. It certainly seems to have been what the Buckeyes needed to get back on track.
After playing very well and finishing second to Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament just a few weeks ago in Indianapolis, the Buckeyes have continued their great play into the NCAA tournament, which has scored them a spot in the Final Four in New Orleans this weekend. They will face Kansas on Saturday evening in New Orleans at the Superdome at 8:45 pm after the first national semi-final between Louisville and Kentucky. The game is a rematch of the two teams’ meeting earlier this season on 12/10/11 when the Jayhawks defeated the Buckeyes 78-67. Sullinger did not play in that game due to a back injury. Unfortunately for Kansas, he is fully healthy now and ready to play. The match up promises to be a great one again, as now fans will get to see Sullinger play against KU’s big man Thomas Robinson. The Buckeyes almost certainly have revenge on their mind, and should they come up with the win on Saturday, they could be looking at another rematch of last year’s Sweet Sixteen loss on Monday night with Kentucky, provided they beat Louisville.
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