Amir Williams did some great things to help the Bucks with Sully and Ravs in foul trouble.

The Ohio State Buckeyes and Syracuse Orange met in Boston this evening to decide who would represent the East Region in the Final Four. After a tight, hard-fought battle, the Buckeyes succeeded in picking up the 77-70 victory over the 1-seeded Syracuse Orange. Every single Buckeye contributed a key piece to this tough victory, but Jared Sullinger led all scorers with 19 points and 7 rebounds. He was followed closely by Lenzelle Smith’s 18 points, most scored in the 2nd half with the game coming down to the wire. On Syracuse’s side of the ball Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine combined for 29 points and a pair of rebounds.

Both teams started off hot attacking the paint with extreme aggression. That may have been a surprise to many who suspected the Buckeyes were going to have to use the long ball to attack the Syracuse 2-3 zone. However, as the Bucks had demonstrated against Cincinnati, they had learned well the methods of handling the 2-3 under the basket. Those lessons were proven valuable again as OSU was able to misdirect, and pass around, the Syracuse zone.

Unfortunately, Jared Sullinger was forced to sit with 13 minutes with two quick fouls. His second foul seemed to be a bit ticky-tack, but with the game being an intense back-and-forth affair, it was understandable that the refs were playing things conservatively. Thankfully, the Buckeyes have been forced on many occasions this season to play without him, which has been to the benefit of Ravenel’s development. He certainly put those skills on display tonight, demonstrating that he could handle the quality interior presence of the Orange.

With OSU’s best big sitting on the bench Syracuse seemed to press their attack into the paint even more. By doing so, they were able to force Evan Ravenel into a quick pair of fouls of his own. Matta, of course, responded by bringing Amir Williams into the game. Ultimately, the move hurt the Buckeyes. While Amir Williams is a very talented player, he is by no means close to a polished product. It was clear from his play on offense that he doesn’t understand as well as Ravenel and Sullinger how to attack the 2-3, nor does he move around nearly as effectively in the paint as the other bigs.

The Buckeyes were not the only team to struggle with foul difficulty in the game. Late in the first half, Syracuse already had four players with two fouls including starters Rakeem Christmas and Brandon Triche, and more significantly Dion Waiters off the bench. The early foul trouble, especially to several important scorers, may have contributed to OSU’s ability to keep the game close going into the half.

Jared Sullinger was in an aggressive and dangerous mode all night.

The game went into the half at 29 a piece in a tough defensive battle. Neither team shot well in the first half, with both teams hitting about 35% from the floor, and OSU hitting only 14% from three. There simply weren’t many sunk baskets to be had, made worse by the surprising number of missed layups on both sides. With the battle of the boards coming out fairly evenly (21-17 OSU), it was not clear that either team had a signficant advantage over the other in any phase of the game.

The early second half felt a lot different than the beginning of the first. Where both teams attacked aggressively in the first half, both teams seemed more cautious. That may have had something to do with how tightly the officials were calling the game. It could also have been due to defensive adjustments making the defenses look unfamiliar to the offenses. Either way, it was a much less hectic approach from both sides.

The pace worked perfectly to Ohio State’s preference. With Syracuse playing a slower, more deliberate offensive style, the Buckeye defense was better able to adjust and handle ‘Cuse’s scorers. Similarly, the Bucks did not feel panic on the other end, and were able to work the ball to find their open shooters. With things going smoothly, the Bucks began to slowly open a lead on the Orange. That was only helped more as Syracuse began to panic and launch bad shots to try to get back into the game.

Once the lead had ballooned to ten, Syracuse began to find success on offense again. First, an impressive 12 footer from the left baseline from Kris Joseph gave the Orange a burst, especially when William Buford was called for being a little too aggressive on defense. Brandon Triche quickly followed that up with a three pointer to close the gap and get the clearly pro-Syracuse crowd back into the game.

The run was only helped by the over-protectiveness of the officials, who seemed to call every possible instance of physical contact a foul. At least to their credit they called it consistently both ways, but the sheer quantity of fouls called was ridiculous. It seemed almost to the point that both teams were going to be sitting their starters for the last 10 minutes of the game.

Aaron Craft and company were primed and ready for this one.

It took almost as long for Syracuse to close the gap as it took the Buckeyes to build it in the first place. With only five minutes left in the game, the Buckeyes found themselves holding a scant one point lead and beginning to feel the icy grip of panic on their necks. But by being patient and feeding Thomas and Sullinger in the paint, good things began to happen again. Sullinger hit a tough shot, and also drew another two fouls on the Syracuse bigs allowing him to go to the line and extend the lead again and give the Bucks a little breathing room from the talented Orange.

It was after the under-four timeout that things became intense again. With nearly every player in the game in foul trouble, the teams began trading offensive body-blows on the scoreboard. The Bucks held a scant four point lead with 2 minutes left, and the Orange had managed to arrange their 2-3 zone to make it difficult for OSU to get the ball down inside the lane to Sullinger and Thomas. Ohio State had to call a timeout to readjust their offense to make opportunities to get the ball into the lane. Taking advantage of Thomas’s offensive prowess, OSU pulled him to the top of the key, fed him the ball after shifting the ‘Cuse defense, and allowed him to take the ball down the lane for two. On the other end, Syracuse lost the handle on the ball, giving OSU a chance to wear time off the clock and look for a good shot.

Ultimately, while Syracuse briefly closed the gap with their last minute fouling, the Buckeyes were able to sink the majority of their free-throws and put the game out of reach. The win marked the first time since 2007 that Ohio State had advanced to the Final Four, and the 2nd time in Thad Matta’s career.

The Buckeyes shot 21-51 (41.2%) from the floor and 4-13 (20.8%) from beyond the arc for the game, while Syracuse hit 22-53 (41.5%) and 6-16 (37.5%) respectively. The Buckeyes held the rebounding advantage for the game 39-26, including a 14-8 advantage on the offensive boards. The teams combined for a surprising 49 fouls in the game.

The Buckeyes advance to the Final Four and will next play the winner of North Carolina and Kansas, which will be decided tomorrow night. Ohio State’s next game will be played on Saturday, March 31st at a time to be announced, and will air on CBS.

9 Comments

  1. John HNo Gravatar
    March 24th, 2012 at 11:45 pm

    Found this post while looking for who the officials were in tonight’s game. I’m an SU fan and want to thank the writer of this post for a well written piece and congrats to Ohio State for winning a tough game.

    I think most fans of both teams would agree that the officiating was terrible. Neither SU or OHS are the kind of rough teams that were likely to get out of control and the spotlight belongs on the talent not the officials. However, I will suggest that the 49 game stops were perhaps a bigger detriment to SU because of their style of play … they even stopped the game in one possession only to give us back the ball out of bounds!

    SU’s inability to tie it up or take the lead at the end wasn’t based on the refs but on clutch plays by OHS and a few key misses by SU but the over-zealous officiating lingers because it impacted upon an otherwise great matchup.

    Good luck to OHS in the next round.

    JohnH.

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    MaliBuckeyeNo Gravatar
    March 24th, 2012 at 11:51 pm

    Thanks, John- In our livechat, we couldn’t believe how much impact that the officials were having on the game; both inconsistent calls and anticipating fouls that didn’t happen. It’s always a tragedy to see a great game like this changed by non-players… in the B1G, we get used to it with Ed Hightower and Ted Valentine.

    Thanks for the well wishes- I’m sure OSU will do their best to represent the East Region with pride. Best of luck to the Orange!

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    FLSTEVENo Gravatar
    March 25th, 2012 at 11:31 am

    John- Where were those yo-yos from? Did you ever find out which league they are from (little league?)…………

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    John HNo Gravatar
    March 25th, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    I did find someplace on an SU forum that said two refs were from the Big12 and the other from the SEC. The one getting the most talk for whistle envy is John Higgins who is apparently ranked in the top ten for fouls called though I’m not sure if that is in his conference or the entire NCAA.

    We have a few in the Big East that are known for calling touch fouls but in general they let them play unless they see (by the way the game evolves) things are getting too heated and save the calls for real fouls that advantage the offending player.

    Their impact was unfortunate but still it was a good game decided in the last few minutes. I knew SU would have a tough time without our starting center but I also agree with what our coach said after the game … we lost on offense. He said the first half but I would add the last 2 minutes when we had a chance to take the lead.

    Regards
    John

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  2. ANo Gravatar
    March 25th, 2012 at 12:50 am

    Aaron Craft’s fake charge take to coerce Syracuse into a traveling violation was the smartest basketball play I’ve seen in years.

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    NorCal BuckeyeNo Gravatar
    March 25th, 2012 at 1:24 am

    Whaaaaa, make your shots. It’s easier to win that way.

    [Reply]

    MaliBuckeyeNo Gravatar
    March 25th, 2012 at 1:27 am

    Smarter than the numerous flops by Orange post players? I find that hard to believe.

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    KenNo Gravatar
    March 25th, 2012 at 10:03 am

    I think ‘Cuse had put the emphasis on quantity over quality.

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  3. ANo Gravatar
    March 25th, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    NorCalBuckeye — I was complimenting Craft’s fake charge take. I wasn’t being sarcastic. I’m an OSU, fan, not a ‘Cuse fan. I’m talking the play, with about 5 minutes left in the game, where Craft hurried over and got in front of a ‘Cuse player driving to the left side of the hoop, left of the foul line and Craft got in front of him and the ‘Cuse player shuffled his feet. It was because Craft is so smart — that player freaked out and walked. Come on man.

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