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Blue-collar Buckeyes shirk being ‘cool’ to advance to the Elite 8

Cody Cousino / Photo editor

BOSTON –  “(Ohio State) has two types of basketball teams,” Jared Sullinger said after OSU’s 81-66 victory against Cincinnati. “We’ve got the cool guys and we’ve got the blue-collar guys.”

Never was that more apparent than Thursday when the Buckeyes blew a double-digit second half lead only to regroup on their way to victory and a trip to the Elite 8.

Coming out of the locker room for the second half, OSU held a 12-point lead and everything was going to plan.

Sophomore forwards Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas combined for 30 out of OSU’s 37 points and the Buckeyes seemed to have the game in control.

But when the second half started, Sullinger said the cool guys showed up.

“To start the second half, we got into the cool guy mode and we kind of let our guard down,” Sullinger said. “(OSU coach Thad Matta) basically told us before we started the second half that they (were) going to come at us with everything they had because Cincinnati is just the type of team that doesn’t give up.”

Cincinnati opened the half on a 21-6 run and eventually took a four point lead with 11:34 remaining.

The Buckeyes committed four turnovers in fewer than three minutes during that span and the Bearcats were capitalizing on the other end.

“We felt like the game was in the bag,” Sullinger said. “Cincinnati came out and punched us in the mouth.”

Matta agreed.

“We let our guard down,” Matta said. “We had some costly turnovers there, I think three in the first four minutes, that as we told our guys, if you turn it over against Cincinnati, they are scoring at the other end. And they did.”

The crowd started to get into the game and suddenly OSU was in danger of being bounced from the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive year.

Part of the change in momentum may have had to do with Cincinnati’s change in defense. The Bearcats played zone in the first half, but switched to man-to-man in the second half.

“We were actually looking for them to play zone,” sophomore guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said. “So a few times out there instead of running plays for our man we were running our zone plays against their man-to-man which doesn’t work obviously.”

Matta was especially animated toward his team during a timeout in the span. Smith Jr. said his normally calm coach had some choice words for his team, but they helped turn the tide of the game.

“He said quite a few things,” Smith Jr. said. “Obviously it worked and we were able to flip the switch. We were playing cool Buckeye basketball which always gets us beat, but we immediately snapped out of that.”

Sullinger said the cool Buckeyes hit the showers shortly thereafter and OSU took control of the game.

The Buckeyes exploded on a 17-1 run, put the game out of reach and the Bearcats were never able to recover. Four Buckeyes scored during the span and defensively OSU was able to force their opponent into making uncharacteristic mistakes.

Cincinnati turned the ball over 18 times Thursday, which is seven more than their season average.

Sophomore guard Aaron Craft accounted for six steals by himself.

“We took our cool guy look off and we went blue-collar,” Sullinger said.” Normally we would kind of let the game flow like it was flowing and we just stopped and put our hands on it and molded it the way we wanted to mold it.”

Sullinger had a big part in molding the game. He finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Thomas led all scorers with 26 points.

The win advances OSU to the Elite 8 for the first time since the 2006-07 season. The past two years the Buckeyes’ journey ended in the Sweet 16.

Senior guard William Buford is the only player on the team who was there for both losses and said it felt great to finally get over the hump.

“Just to say that we’re in the Elite 8 and make it past this hump of the Sweet 16 that we haven’t made it over in the past two years just feels great,” Buford said.

OSU will face No. 1 seed Syracuse in the regional final Saturday. Tip is set for 7:05 p.m. and the winner will advance to the Final Four in New Orleans.

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