The Buckeyes did anything but cooperate.
Top-seeded Ohio State trounced eighth-seeded George Mason 98-66 in a packed and partisan Quicken Loans Arena, scorching the Patriots throughout an efficient first half to secure the round of 32 game.
Patriots sophomore Luke Hancock, who hit the go-ahead 3-pointer in Friday’s defeat of Villanova, sat out with a stomach illness. It left Mason (27-7) bereft of one of its most dangerous offensive players in its toughest test of the season.
Ultimately, his presence wouldn’t have changed the outcome much. Not with the way the Buckeyes (34-2) dissected the Patriots.
“It seemed like everything we tried to do defensively, they had an answer for,” Larranaga said.
David Lighty scored 25 points for Ohio State, which shot 61 percent from the floor and a tournament record 61.5 percent (16-for-26) from 3-point territory.
The torrid shooting helped the Buckeyes erase an early 11-2 deficit and uncork a 50-15 run of their own entering halftime. Pacing the surge was Lighty, a Cleveland native who made all seven of his 3-pointers to ensure the Buckeyes a date with Kentucky in the East Region semifinals.
“Lighty was just on fire,” forward Ryan Pearson said. “He just didn’t miss. When they moved him to the four position and went kind of small, they tried to spread us out. We wanted to give as much help to Mike [Morrison] on [Jared] Sullinger as possible, and he just found the open guy. They just kicked it out and made shots all night.”
There’s Sullinger, the fulcrum of Ohio State’s offense. Then there’s perimeter threat Jon Diebler and talented complementary pieces Lighty and William Buford.
It’s not an easy puzzle. Mason couldn’t muster any solution as the Buckeyes scored 1.57 points per possession in the first half.
“At first it was Sullinger; we began with how we were going to defend in the post,” Larranaga said while running down the Patriots’ priorities. “The second was Diebler because of his ability to stretch the defense with his 3-point shooting ability. And then it was ‘Let’s pray Buford and Lighty don’t go off.’ But you’re hoping. You’re not planning on that.”
The setback abruptly ended the Patriots’ attempt to craft a follow-up to their improbable 2006 Final Four run.
This team was determined to stake out its own legacy, and did so with both a 16-game winning streak late in the regular season and the school’s first NCAA tournament victory since 2006.