PITTSBURGH — Jared Sullinger doesn’t get mad anymore. Those days are over. The Ohio State sophomore forward knows he can’t afford to lose his temper if the Buckeyes want to reach the Final Four.
So rather than sulk after foul trouble and some solid Gonzaga defense frustrated him for 36 minutes Saturday, the quickly maturing big man relaxed, took a deep breath and hoisted the Buckeyes on his broad shoulders.
Sullinger scored 18 points, including two big baskets on soft hook shots in the final 3 minutes to lead Ohio State to a 73-66 victory and a spot in the regional semifinals for the third straight year.
“I knew that throwing my body and creating contact wasn’t going to work in this game,” he said. “So I kind of just went with a little bit of finesse and just tried to get off-the-body contact and try to go up and finish.”
And finish off the original bracket busters in the process.
DeShaun Thomas also scored 18 for the second-seeded Buckeyes (29-7), while Aaron Craft added 17 points and 10 assists. Ohio State will play Florida State or Cincinnati in Boston on Thursday.
“We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well in the second half, but we knocked the shots down. And everybody made a big shot here and there,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said.
Then, with the Bulldogs surging after wiping out a 10-point Ohio State lead, the Buckeyes went back to basics.
They went back to Sullinger, though such measures hardly seemed necessary after a putback by Thomas gave the Buckeyes a 58-48 lead. The Bulldogs (26-7) responded with a 13-3 run capped by a 3-pointer from the corner by Harris that tied it at 61 with 4:05 to go.
Then Sullinger, who still thinks about last year’s loss to Kentucky in the regional semifinals, took over. He backed down Gonzaga center Robert Sacre and hit a soft little hook shot from the right block to put Ohio State back in front.
“Right down the stretch we wanted to get the ball in his hands,” Matta said. “He’s a winner. We’ll ride that down the stretch.”
Gary Bell Jr. led Gonzaga with 18 points and Harris added 16, but the Zags went cold down the stretch, coming up empty on five straight possessions after tying the game as Ohio State avoided becoming the third No. 2 seed to lose in less than 24 hours. Fellow heavyweights Duke and Missouri fell to upstarts on Friday from one-bid leagues.
Yet the Buckeyes knew the Bulldogs are hardly scrappy underdogs. They entered the game with 17 NCAA victories over the last 14 seasons, the same as the Buckeyes.
The 18th will have to wait until next year at least, though coach Mark Few was hardly apologizing after taking the Buckeyes to the limit.View Entire Story
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