Michael Periatt / Asst. sports editor
PITTSBURGH – Survive and advance. That’s the mentality many basketball teams adopt in the NCAA Tournament.
Ohio State is not one of those teams.
The No. 2 seed Buckeyes will face No. 7 seed Gonzaga Saturday after defeating Loyola (MD), 78-59, Thursday, but the Buckeyes were not satisfied with their performance.
Sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas, who scored a career-high 31 points in OSU’s first game, said he was treating the performance as a loss. OSU committed 18 turnovers Thursday and many Buckeyes said that if they continue to be careless with the ball against Gonzaga, they might be sent packing.
“I think the first thing that jumps out at us is our inability to take care of the ball,” sophomore guard Aaron Craft said. “Turning it over 20 times is something we can’t do especially against a great team like Gonzaga tomorrow.”
Gonzaga played pressure defense against No. 10 seed West Virginia in their first NCAA Tournament game en route to a 77-54 victory.
OSU has never played the Bulldogs, but Gonzaga matched up with both Illinois and Michigan State earlier in the season. Gonzaga lost both games by seven points.
Despite being a mid-major in the West Coast Conference, Gonzaga reminds OSU coach Thad Matta of teams in the Big Ten.
“There’s a lot of similarities to their transition half-court offense to Michigan State,” Matta said. “And (they resemble) Indiana with their personnel. “
Gonzaga coach Mark Few said the Buckeyes will be a tough matchup for his team, but thinks he has the players to compete.
“This is going to be a very difficult matchup for us, but at the same time we have good bigs, they have good bigs,” Few said. “The strength and the core of this team was built around our inside guys … much like Ohio State.”
The inside play for Gonzaga starts with 7-foot senior center Robert Sacre who was named his conference’s defensive player of the year.
He averages 11.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game on the season and had a team-high 14 points in the victory against West Virginia.
Sacre will likely be matched up with OSU sophomore forward Jared Sullinger, who has averaged 21 points per game since the Buckeyes entered the postseason.
Sullinger said he got a chance to watch Sacre a little bit before OSU’s game.
“He was good. He was athletic,” Sullinger said. “He did a little bit of everything for them.”
Sullinger had 12 points and 11 rebounds against Loyola (MD).
Thomas has been the guy leading OSU as of late, though. At 21.5 points per game, he’s been OSU’s leading scorer through the postseason. Thomas has scored in double digits in each of the last 10 games.
“Deshaun is probably one of our most consistent players throughout the however many games we’ve played,” Matta said. “What he’s brought to this team has No. 1 been his consistency and No. 2 guys look at him and see the effort and the commitment he’s made to do other things.”
Thomas’ 31 points Thursday made him one of seven Buckeyes all time to score 30 points in an NCAA Tournament game.
“I was just trying to get to the right spots at the right time,” Thomas said of his performance. “Then I was just knocking them down. I was just feeling it a little bit.”
Few said that because OSU has scoring options like Thomas and Sullinger, it’s hard to focus on any one guy.
“You’re just going to have to pick your poison on how much defensive attention you give to Sullinger when you have other great players like (senior guard William Buford) and Thomas and Aaron Craft,” Few said.
Gonzaga and OSU will tip off at about 2:50 p.m. at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh.