In Saturday’s round three match-up in the NCAA Tournamant against the Gonzaga Bulldogs, The Ohio State Buckeyes met their opponent at the corral with enough ammunition for an good old fashioned shootout.
In the first ten minutes, the game saw 6 ties and 8 lead changes. The Buckeyes turned over the ball six times. Yet they were able to keep the game within four early and weather the storm throughout in the 73-66 victory, advancing to the sweet sixteen, where they will take on the winner of Florida State and Cincinnati (who play at 9:40 on Sunday) next Thursday.
Jared Sullinger went 3/3 with two threes in the opening eight minutes, as the Buckeyes scored their first 12 points from three point land. After getting the lucky bounce on a wide open look from the near wing, Sullinger would spot up again for three and drain it to give Ohio State it’s biggest lead of the first half at 6-4.
William Buford would answer for three, as would Aaron Craft to keep Ohio State tied early at 12-12. Lenzelle Smith would break up the three point barrage on a beautiful two handed layup off a pin point pass to the low post from Aaron Craft. Sullinger would then hit a wide open look from the wing for two, Craft would then put up a third straight bucket for the guys in Gray from the elbow to make it 18-16 Buckeyes.
After making four straight field goals, the Bulldogs would answer with a few of their own. Freshman Kevin Pangos would nail a three off the assist from Gary Bell Jr to tie it up. Bell would then hit his own from downtown after a William Buford jumper to make it 24-20. From that point, it was a 11-2 run for Gonzaga, without Jared Sullinger in the ballgame. He would sit out the final 12 minutes of the first half due to foul trouble.
That’s when fellow sophomores Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas took over the ballgame.
The best point guard in all the land broke the Bulldog run with a beautiful drive to the hoop on the far side. Highly contested, Craft put the biscuit in the basket with his far hand and drew the contact to get to the foul line. After draining it from the charity stripe, the Gonzaga lead was cut to 27-23 with seven minutes remaining in the half.
That’s when the Deshaun Thomas train got rolling and didn’t stop until Ohio State went to the locker room up 39-37.
He would score his first points of the game on a tip-in from the mid post to cut the lead to two. That would be followed by a three from the near wing that hit off the hell and through the net. After a Sam Bower bomb, Thomas hit another three from the wing to cut it back to two with two minutes remaining in the half.
Buckeye freshman Amir Williams would come in late in the first to help fight the size of the Zags and their dominance in the paint with Sullinger on the bench. He would force a jump ball which led to another Deshaun Thomas scoring drive, getting to the hoop and draining the layup to tie it up at 35. Thomas would then drain his 12th straight Buckeye point, giving the Buckeyes their first lead since early in the game with a leaner in the paint to make it 37-35.
After an Aaron Craft Steal, the Buckeyes would settle for the last shot of the half , when Aaron Craft went with the hesitation move on the far side and threw it up and off the glass to make it 39-37.
He would start where he left off in the second, putting together arguably the best game of his career. He would score the first six points of the half for Ohio State, taking over the floor while covered by Pangos.
After two straight Layups, Craft would go to the hole off a full court pass from Jared Sullinger after a steal, to give the Buckeyes the early 45-39 lead.
Deshaun Thomas would nail a three from the far wing five minutes in, just to make sure that Craft didn’t top his 12 point scoring streak to end the first. Buford would get enter the three point party on the following possession to make it a 52-42 after a 13-5 run to start the half.
Of course, Craft was still involved on both possessions, leading the way with the assists. He would finish with 10 helpers, 2 steals, 3 rebounds and 17 points. All while shooting 7/9 from the floor.
Struggling with the hot shooting defensively, and the ability of Aaron Craft to break through the man-to-man coverage, coach Mark Few made the switch to zone defense with 14:00 to go.
With Jared Sullinger out of the ballgame, it seemed to calm the pace and his players. After a timeout, Gonzaga would go on a 5-0 run. Kevin Pangos would hit a three from the top of the key to cut the Ohio State lead to 5.
Sullinger would then re-enter the game and stop the run on a putback attempt after a missed three from Deshaun Thomas. After the miss Sullinger would get to the line and drain two. He would follow that up moments later with another pair, to give Ohio State an 8 point 56-48 lead.
Both teams would go scoreless from the field for the next three minutes, until Deshaun Thomas put point number 17 off the glass to give his team the ten point lead. He would finish with 4 of Ohio State’s 6 offensive rebounds.
Gonzaga would try and put together a run off the hands of it’s freshman guards with a bit more than 7 minutes to play. After a missed Thomas layup, Robert Sacre would pull down the defensive rebound. The seven footer would look down the court to David Stockton, who would find Gary Harris Jr. for his second three of the ballgame in three tries.
With the lead cut to four, both teams left it all on the hardwood, as Bell would answer in the paint with 5:48 to go to make it a two point ballgame. He would score the next nine points for the Bulldogs before subbing out for David Stockton with 4:30 left to play.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. would hit a huge three to end the Bulldog 8-0 run.
Stockton would then do what his family does best, find the open man — as Elias Harris was left with some space in the far corner. He would nail the three to tie it and continue the a 13-3 onslaught by the Gonzaga offense.
Jared Sullinger would answer that with a big two inside to give the Buckeyes the lead with under three minutes to play. Deshaun Thomas would then get a huge defensive rebound on the other end that led to him hitting one of two from the line after a foul on Harris to give the Buckeyes a 64-61 lead.
Kevin Pangos would have a good look from the top of the key that would roll in and out. Off the miss, the Buckeyes would play clock management with just more than a minute on the clock.
For the second straight possession, William Buford from the near corner looked to the baseline and inside to Jared Sullinger. After contact on the first attempt that led to a Robert Sacre foul and a miss on the one and one from Sullinger.
On the second attempt, Sullinger went strong to the hoop with his back to the basket, hit the pivot and nothing but net to give Ohio State the 66-61 lead.
On the ensuing possession, Lenzelle Smith would bat the ball away from Robert Sacre inside and save it on the near sideline, just in front of the baseline. Aaron Craft would try to save it on the baseline by batting the ball back inbounds with one hand, planting his hand out of bounds to regain position, all while moving forward to retrieve it.
Gonzaga would get the basketball back though and play the foul line game with 40 seconds left in the game and down 5. Elias Harris would get to the line and miss both.
Sullinger would then go to the line off the box out rebound led to a foul. He would hit both to seal the ballgame on a 7-0 run. He would finish with a very strong second half, putting together 18 points and four rebounds
Ohio State held the Bulldogs scoreless from the field for three straight minutes and forced five straight missed shot attempts.
Gary Bell Jr., who led all Bulldog scorers with 18, would make it interesting with a three late to cut the lead to four.
William Buford would nail two free throws though to end the ballgame.
The Buckeyes, who advance to their third straight sweet sixteen, shot 48% from the floor.
Overall, The Buckeyes had what fans have been looking for all season long in the last five minutes. Throughout the ballgame, we got answers from everyone on the floor when we desperately needed them. In the final stretch, we saw the poise of a championship team.
Here’s to hoping this is the start of putting it all together, at just the right time.