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The shot Ohio State’s LaQuinton Ross grew up to make

LOS ANGELES – When Ohio State arrived at the Staples Center Tuesday afternoon and was notified it would inhabit the Lakers’ clubhouse during its stay in Los Angeles, LaQuinton Ross called dibs on a particular maple-finished closet.
“I called dibs on (Kobe Bryant)’s locker,” the sophomore forward said.
Bryant is Ross’ favorite player. Getting the privilege to sit in the same seat, walk on the carpet and play in the same building as the future NBA Hall of Famer served as motivation for the 6-foot-8 sharpshooter.
Thursday night against Arizona, Ross might as well have been wearing the No. 24 white, purple and gold uniform his hero routinely sports in his home arena.
With two seconds left in the Sweet 16 contest between the No. 2-seeded Buckeyes and No. 6-seeded Wildcats, Ross hit a 3-pointer from the left arch, propelling OSU to a 73-70 victory and into the Elite 8.
Ross received the ball from junior guard Aaron Craft, whose game-winning 3-pointer against Iowa State last weekend kept OSU’s tournament run alive.
“I said, ‘Knock down,’ as I passed it, so he better have made it,” Craft said.
It was a shot eerily similar to the buzzer-beaters the Staples Center crowd has grown accustomed to seeing from Bryant throughout the 34-year-old’s time in Los Angeles.
The make from Ross is a highlight not previously topped by the 20-year-old, and it capped a career-game in OSU’s most important bash of the season.
Ross finished with 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting, 14 of which came in the second half. Down the stretch, with the two heavyweight programs trading basket for basket, it was Ross – not junior forward Deshaun Thomas or Craft – that OSU went to in need of points.
“This is what every player grows up looking at on TV and wants to hit that big shot, wants to win the game and hit the big shot in the NCAA Tournament or the NBA,” Ross said. “It just feels great to be here right now.”
Just one possession prior to Ross getting the ball from Craft with the seconds ticking down, he had wanted to escape the Staples Center in a hurry.
With OSU up, 70-67, Arizona senior guard Mark Lyons drove straight at Ross, got fouled and made the layup and ensuing free throw, tying the game. Ross put his hands on his head before covering up his face. Following the game, Ross’ teammates said he had tears in his eyes after the play.
The sadness and frustration quickly turned to joy after the game-winning shot went through the net. Earlier in the season, that ability to let a previous play go and move on to the next one wasn’t there for Ross.
“LaQuinton has really grown in a lot of areas,” said coach Thad Matta. “He’s really become prideful in the little things in his game and it’s really propelled him to be a better basketball player. I’m proud of him.”
One area of his game that will likely go unnoticed following an offensive outburst is his defense – something that kept him off the floor for most of the first half.
“I told him you’re either going to be a defender or I’m not putting you back in the basketball game, and to his credit, he did a really good job,” Matta said.
Ross played like a super-sub in the second half, drawing comparisons to former NBA Sixth Man of the Year James Harden from his teammates.
“To this point, I think he’s done a phenomenal job playing his role. I think he’s not really known for his defense, but he’s really been trying on that and putting the work in,” Craft said.
It’s the 3-pointer with two seconds left, though, that Ross and his teammates will forever remember, though.
“Q’s going to talk about that shot for the rest of his life. He’s never going to let us hear the end of it,” said sophomore forward Sam Thompson.
Thanks to that shot, Thompson and his team get to keep playing. OSU will face No. 9 seed Wichita State Saturday at 7:05 p.m. with a spot in the Final Four on the line. 

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