It was a battle, and the outcome was long in doubt, but Ohio State pulled out a win over Cincinnati tonight. Through their 81-66 victory, the Buckeyes advance to the Elite Eight and avoided getting knocked out in the Sweet Sixteen for the third year in a row.
This was a tough, tough win — just what you would expect in a Sweet Sixteen matchup. The Buckeyes rode the stellar play of Deshaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger to a 12-point halftime lead. Thomas, in particular, was spectacular, making shots from all over the floor as the Bearcats tried desperately to find someone who could match up with him.
The second half was another story, however. The Buckeyes saw their lead vanish as Cincinnati hustled, forced turnovers, and shot lights out. Credit to the Bearcats for playing a gutty game and not giving up.
The Buckeyes fell behind, but dug down deep, shut down the Bearcats, and pulled away. Sullinger and Thomas were great, but Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. provided the energy and the gritty defense that frustrated the Bearcats and allowed the Buckeyes to rebuild their lead and cruise to victory. Craft seemed to be just about everywhere, knocking balls loose, hitting the floor, and driving the Bearcat big men and guards alike to distraction with his quick hands.
Smith, on the other hand, made some great passes, got some crucial buckets, and helped to shut down the Bearcats when the game was in the balance. This game showed why Coach Thad Matta likes to have Lenzelle in the lineup. When he is playing his game, he contributes in so many different ways.
Both Smith and Craft contributed on offense in the second half; Smith had 15 points, and Craft ended with 11, most of which came on free throws. William Buford, on the other hand, probably is glad he’ll never see another Sweet Sixteen game — he seemed out of sorts all game and could not get the ball to go down. We’ll hope he’s gotten the game out of his system, because we’ll need him to score in the next game.
So, the Buckeyes advance to play Syracuse. They’ll need to play well and shoot better from the free throw line, but we’ll worry about that game later. For now, the Buckeyes have moved on and knocked Cincinnati out of the tournament in the process.
Somewhere, Jerry Lucas is smiling.