It was a nail-biter, and Gonzaga came back as you knew they would, but this afternoon the Ohio State Buckeyes ultimately prevailed and are moving on to the Sweet Sixteen.
This was a very good win against a very good team. The Buckeyes were out of sorts early and were getting killed on the boards. Shouted epithets rang through Webner House as the Bulldogs got put-backs and second-chance points after grabbing offensive rebounds. But with Jared Sullinger on the bench with two fouls, the Buckeyes clawed their way back. Amir Williams gave Ohio State a presence in the middle, and Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas brought the Buckeyes back to lead at the half. In the second half, the terrific Craft led the way and the Buckeyes built up a 10-point lead. Then, Gonzaga wisely went to a zone, the Buckeyes were thrown off stride, and their lead ultimately dwindled to nothing. But Ohio State stuck at it, made their free throws, and finally got the crucial rebounds. The final score was 73-66, but the game was a lot closer than that.
This may have been the gutsiest effort by Ohio State this year. They played, and beat, an experienced team that is a perennial NCAA Tournament contender. Equally important, it was a true team effort — perhaps the most total team effort of the season. Four players scored in double figures and the Buckeyes got quality contributions off the bench from Amir Williams and Shannon Scott. It was good to see William Buford on the line at the end, knocking down free throws to ice the game. Buford deserves some love and respect from Buckeyes fans for coming back for his senior year when he easily could have gone pro and providing the team’s most dependable outside shooting.
So now the Buckeyes get to sit back and wait to see whether they play Florida State or Cincinnati in the round of 16 — where the Buckeyes have fallen the last two years. Let’s hope they take a few moments tonight to reflect on and enjoy a job well done today.