OSU knocks off Syracuse, 77-70, for trip to Final Four
Published: Saturday, March 24, 2012
Updated: Saturday, June 16, 2012 00:06
BOSTON — After the final buzzer sounded, the Ohio State men’s basketball team leapt high and far.
These were celebratory jumps and chest-bumps. They were higher than any attempt for a rebound or a basket, and the smiles that accompanied them unmistakable — they were the smiles of a team headed to the Final Four.
Because that’s what the second-seeded Buckeyes were on Saturday at TD Garden in Boston — a team that defeated top-seeded Syracuse, 77-70, in the NCAA Tournament East Region Final to gain passage to the Final Four in New Orleans in a week.
In a game marred by questionable officiating decisions and foul trouble for both the Orange (34-3) and the Buckeyes (31-7), OSU outlasted its opponent in the nervy, closing moments of the game. After missing most of the first half with foul trouble, sophomore forward Jared Sullinger ended the night with a game-high 19 points. Sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas added 14 points and fellow sophomore Lenzelle Smith, Jr., had 18 points of his own.
OSU, which advances to the Final Four for the first time since coach Thad Matta led the team to the National Championship game in 2007, does not yet have an opponent for its next game.
The Buckeyes will play the winner of the Midwest Region Final between top-seeded North Carolina and second-seeded Kansas in the Final Four on Saturday. The Tar Heels and Jayhawks will tip Sunday at 5:05 p.m. in St. Louis, Mo.
"Obviously, I thought a high-level college basketball game, probably the way it's supposed to be in the Regional Finals," Matta said after the game. "We beat a tremendous team tonight."
The Buckeyes bumped and hassled their way to an early 9-8 lead, which held through the first media timeout. Sophomore guard Aaron Craft had a hand in Orange senior guard Scoop Jardine’s face early and often.
Buckeyes starters were falling fast, though — guard Smith Jr. took a blow to the head and went back to the locker room before the first media timeout.
At the 13:42 mark, Sullinger was slapped with his second foul of the half and forced to retreat to the bench.
Smith Jr. would return minutes later, but the significance of Sullinger’s absence from the court wasn’t lost on Matta. When play stopped at the 11:22 mark of the first half with the Buckeyes leading, 16-15, Matta walked across the court and shouted to the CBS television broadcasting team to see if the correct call was made.
The broadcasters appeared to indicate the call was incorrect, and Matta stomped on the floor in frustration.
Sullinger zipped his warm-up jacket up — he was in for a long break from the action.
The player said he wasn't expecting Matta to call him back to the bench.
"These guys have played without me before, so they know what they have to do," Sullinger said. "We just kept competing on the defensive end. I think that's what won the basketball game."
Matta said the team pulled together after Sullinger was forced to the bench.
"It's something we've been preaching with this basketball team, and came down (in) the second half to guys making big plays," Matta said.
The game was called tight both ways, and each team had multiple players in foul trouble. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was called for a technical that led to a made free-throw for senior guard William Buford.
Boeheim, who said after the game that he thought the technical foul was the first called on him about three years, declined to comment on the officiating decisions during his post-game press conference.
Boeheim wasn’t getting the foul calls, but his team’s famed zone defense was working just fine. The Orange forced OSU into a shot clock violation with less than four minutes to play in the half.
The Buckeyes stumbled without Sullinger in the lineup, scoring just 13 points after his departure. Despite the lack of scoring, OSU held Syracuse in check and the teams went into half tied at 29.
The Buckeyes shot just more than 34 percent, connecting on 10-of-29 attempts in the first half. The Orange were just as ineffective and shot at a clip of nearly 35 percent.
Senior guard William Buford and Thomas each scored six points in the opening 20 minutes to pace OSU while the Orange were led by Jardine’s seven points.
Officiating decisions continued to impact the game after the intermission as Orange freshman forward Rakeem Christmas was whistled for his fourth foul and had to leave the game.