Aaron Craft locked it up on defense and Deshaun Thomas provided first half fireworks to lift Ohio State to a sweet victory. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
The East region semifinal on Thursday night was a tale of two teams for the Ohio State Buckeyes. There was one team that took a 12-point lead into halftime and eventually won going away, and another that saw the 12-point lead disappear in 5 minutes and made it seem like the Big Ten would go 0 for the night.
"We've got two types of basketball teams: We've got the cool guys and then the blue-collar guys," Sullinger explained. "I thought to start the second half we got into the cool-guy mode and we kind of let our guard down. ... I mean, we just came out and decided to be cool guys, and they came out and they stung us, and then we got ourselves back into another basketball game."
The "cool guys" scored 4 points compared to 3 turnovers in the first five minutes of the 2nd half while Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick caught fire on offense to bring the Bearcats even to a 41-41 tie. However, the "blue-collar guys" soon found their way back onto the floor so that Buckeye fans did not need to sweat it out down the stretch.
The OSU resurgence was led by Aaron Craft, who had 3 steals in the second half to start some fast breaks that led to key buckets. Craft didn't even get into double digit scoring until he began to hit free throws in garbage time, but the sterling sophomore's 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 6 steals and suffocating defense were vital to the Ohio State victory.
The first half, on the other hand, was all about Deshaun Thomas, who scored from everywhere and had 20 of the 37 Ohio State points before halftime. Thomas finished with 26 points on 10 of 17 shooting and 7 rebounds (4 on offense). The combination of three-point shooting and offensive rebounding/put-backs is a bit similar to the variety of talents that Draymond Green possesses, and makes Thomas seem like he could be a First Team All-Big Ten player as long as he sticks around next season. In the previous two rounds, Thomas had 18 points and 7 rebounds versus Gonzaga as well as 31 and 12 against Loyola.
Also impressive was Jared Sullinger, who had a great offensive game from the post. While Cincinnati bigs Yancy Gates and Justin Jackson combined for 15 points and 11 rebounds, Sullinger helped himself to 23 points and 11 rebounds on 7 of 13 field goal shooting and 9 of 10 free throws. Getting to the line turned out to be a great advantage for Ohio State in general, as they attempted 27 free throws compared to just 8 for Cincy.
With the win, Ohio State returns to a regional final for the first time since 2007, when Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Ron Lewis carried the Bucks to the title game. To Thad Matta, it's great to be back to playing for a shot at the title.
"In the last 10 minutes, we challenged them. It was time," Matta said. "It's obviously a very, very good feeling to be down to eight tomorrow night, whenever the games end, with a lot at stake. I mean, so much is put on now, the NCAA tournament. I couldn't be happier for this team."
Ohio State will play the number one seed in the East Region, Syracuse at 7:05 PM ET on Saturday.