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Friday, March 23, 2012

Buckeyes Advance to Elite 8 - First Thoughts After Win - OSU No Longer Doubting Thomas -

Ohio State gets big games from Deshaun Thomas, Jared Sullinger to oust Cincinnati

BOSTON (AP) -- Jared Sullinger and the Ohio State Buckeyes had blown a 12-point lead and fallen behind Cincinnati in the second half of the East Regional semifinals.
It was time for the "cool guys" to take a seat, and let the blue-collar team take over.
Sullinger scored 23 points with 11 rebounds and Ohio State turned back Cincinnati's last charge with a 17-1 run to beat the Bearcats 81-66 on Thursday night and advance to the NCAA regional finals for the first time since 2007.
"We've got two types of basketball teams: We've got the cool guys and then the blue-collar guys," Sullinger explained. "I thought to start the second half we got into the cool-guy mode and we kind of let our guard down. ... I mean, we just came out and decided to be cool guys, and they came out and they stung us, and then we got ourselves back into another basketball game."
Deshaun Thomas scored 26 points for the second-seeded Buckeyes (30-7), who will play Syracuse at the TD Garden on Saturday. Aaron Craft added 11 points - all in the second half - with five assists and six steals, taking charge during the second-half run that turned a four-point deficit into a double-digit lead.
Cashmere Wright scored 18 and Sean Kilpatrick had 15 for the No. 6 seeded Bearcats, who were attempting to match Big East rival Syracuse by beating a Big Ten opponent to advance to the East Regional finals. The top-seeded Orange advanced earlier Thursday by beating fourth-seeded Wisconsin 64-63.
It's the first trip to the regional finals for Ohio State since it lost in the 2007 championship game to Florida. The Buckeyes lost in the round of 16 in each of the past two years.
"Coach (Thad) Matta has been through two Sweet 16s where the train kind of stopped. And we wanted to make sure that this train was going to keep rolling," Sullinger said. "It's tremendous to be in a situation like this, and it's a blessing. But at the same time we can't lose focus."
Wearing fluorescent orange shoelaces and piping on their jerseys, Cincinnati (26-11) fell behind by 12 at the half before going on a 19-4 run early in the second. The Bearcats led 52-48 with 11:34 to play when Matta called a timeout and ripped into his team.
The Buckeyes allowed just one free throw over the next 5 1/2 minutes.
"They had 20 points in nine minutes and were shooting 80 percent, and some of that goes to them," Craft said. "But we didn't play defense like we did in the first half. We did a great job of sticking together and getting stops."
That effectively ended the season for Cincinnati, which fought its way back into prominence after a Dec. 10 brawl with crosstown rival Xavier.
The Musketeers, who were unbeaten and No. 8 in the nation at the time, lost their top three scorers and then five of their next six games. But Cincinnati, which fell to 5-3 with the 23-point loss at Xavier, won 10 of its next 11 games despite using a four-guard offense made necessary by the six-game suspensions of Yancy Gates and center Cheikh Mbodj.
The Bearcats reached the final of the Big East tournament and beat Texas and Florida State in the NCAAs to reach the regional semifinals for the first time since 2001.
"We've come a long way. I take a lot of pride in that. Nothing's been given to us," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "In the Big East, rebuilding a program has been a tough chore the last 10 years."
Ohio State, which lost to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game, reached the round of 16 by beating 15th-seeded Loyola of Maryland and No. 7 seed Gonzaga. The Buckeyes were among four Ohio teams in the round of 16. Ohio plays North Carolina and Xavier plays Baylor on Friday.
Despite just about 100 miles separating their campuses along I-71, Ohio State and Cincinnati had played just once since the 1962 national championship game.
This one was evenly matched - for about 30 minutes.
The Buckeyes led Cincinnati by five when Thomas hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Ohio State scored 10 of the last 13 points in the half to open a 37-25 lead. But Cincinnati opened the second half with a run of its own, tying it 41-all on JaQuon Parker's baby hook shot in the lane.
The Bearcats led 52-48 on Gates' three-point play with 11:34 left. But Ohio State scored 17 of the next 18 points to put it away.
"In the last 10 minutes, we challenged them. It was time," Matta said. "It's obviously a very, very good feeling to be down to eight tomorrow night, whenever the games end, with a lot at stake. I mean, so much is put on now, the NCAA tournament. I couldn't be happier for this team."

First Thoughts From the Buckeyes' 81-66 Win Over Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament
By Tony Gerdeman

First Thought

I wrote in this space last week that it was time for William Buford to become a complementary player and not an integral one. I think he listened to me in this game.

With how cold Buford has been of late—he was 1-8 in this game from the field—it only makes sense to look at other options to pick up his scoring slack. Fortunately, the Buckeyes have been able to do that the last couple of nights with Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith.

Buford as a complementary feature can allow for his poor shooting because Ohio State isn't relying on him. Even though he was just 1-8 from the field, I thought he did a fair job of not going 1-14.

In other words, he didn't keep shooting.

But we can't talk about his performance without also mentioning his huge three-pointer to cut Cincinnati's four-point lead to one with under twelve minutes to play.

He is in the game for a reason, and when that reason isn't being realized, he can have the tendency to force things. He should be credited with remaining somewhat calm, despite what must be constant swirling in the head.

Though it seems that Thad Matta may want to switch Buford's mindset to 'First do no harm'.

Sub Thought

The Buckeyes only played eight players tonight, and two of the three reserves (Sam Thompson and Evan Ravenel) played just two minutes.

Shannon Scott played 16 minutes tonight and did a quality job of running the point for Ohio State.

When Scott was subbed in during the second half for William Buford, the Buckeyes lead it 55-53 with around nine minutes remaining in the game. With Scott at the point, and Buford on the bench, the Buckeyes went on a 15-6 run.

They never looked back after that.

Scott helped Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith break the press with ease and finished with three assists and just one turnover. It was a needed outing for the freshman and he never looked out of his comfort zone—provided he wasn't shooting the ball, of course.

Strategic Thought

I discovered tonight that the best way to defend the Bearcats was to let them shoot jumpers. They would have no answer for my defense. I would tell my players to get up in their faces, and then once they got the ball, back off about ten feet and say, "Pfft. I'll give you that all day."

As we all know, a Cincinnati Bearcat can't be disrespected like that, so they would have no choice but to shoot the open jumper, and then I'd already have half my team down in the paint rebounding.

Whole Thought

One of the reasons that this was a very good win for the Buckeyes is that they built leads in two different ways.

In the first half, they abused Cincinnati's zone defense with Deshaun Thomas in the lane and Lenzelle Smith on the baseline. Thomas and Sullinger hit the glass, and played some hellacious two-main basketball between them.

Then in the second half Cincinnati changed things up and scrapped their zone defense. It took the Buckeyes five or six minutes to adjust, but they finally got there. Once they did, they dominated the Bearcats just like they had in the first half, only different.

Their ability to excel against different defenses is what makes a team like this a difficult out in the tournament.

Perspective Thought

CBS needs to get rid of their silly zipline camera and eight-miles up view from above. They are terrible angles and diminish what we can actually see on our televisions.

Television sports directors are some of the dumbest people on the planet, and they never fail to fail me.

Clearly, these new shots with this camera were like a kid with a new toy, but it's a toy that nobody else wants and nobody is impressed by.

"Hey everybody, look at my brand new Hasbro Fecal Organizer!"

Impure Thought

Right now, I think about 74% of all Buckeye fans (male and female) would leave their significant other for a serious relationship with Aaron Craft, and none of their friends or family would look at them with anything but complete understanding.

"How could you not!" they'd say, "He's Aaron Craft, for crying out loud."

The best thing about him is that he plays basketball the way it is supposed to be played—constantly. Defensively, he's relentless like a waterfall. He just keeps coming, wave after wave. He's a one-man infantry.

It was amazing to watch him defend in this game. Clearly, the Bearcats had no idea he was going to be this disruptive. He finished with six steals, and probably caused six more than went to his teammates.

Several times Cincinnati players were looking to challenge him off the dribble. They had their moments early in the game, but after that, Craft battened them down like hatches in a hurricane.

Final Thought

I said in this week's Water Cooler that Jared Sullinger would be the key to an Ohio State national championship. After tonight's first half performance, I was almost going to have to side with Ben Axelrod's choice of Deshaun Thomas.

However, I stuck with Sullinger and he never slumped. He didn't have one great half and then one blech half. He scored ten points and grabbed nine rebounds in the first half, and then scored 13 more points in the second half.

He was Ohio State's one offensive constant in this game, and that's exactly what he'll need to remain if the Buckeyes are going to win it all.

Buckeyes reach Elite Eight, and no longer doubting Thomas

BOSTON -- When Deshaun Thomas entered the Ohio State program, he did it in the shadow of highly touted classmate Jared Sullinger. Hardly an afterthought as a McDonald's All-American, but certainly not the prize of the recruiting class.
Buckeyes head man Thad Matta and strength and conditioning coach Dave Richardson immediately took the route of bulking up the 6-foot-7 Thomas, adding 20 pounds to his frame. Thomas, always known as a scorer, was still able to put the ball in the basket -- but wasn't able to remain on the court due to his inability to guard and play long stretches without being fatigued.
On Thursday night, Thomas never left the court in the first half against Cincinnati, playing all 20 minutes and scoring 20 points before the break.
"He was the key for us tonight," Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft said following the 81-66 victory that put the Buckeyes in the Elite Eight. "He kept us in the game in the first half."
Last year was a challenge. If he wasn't making shots, there was little reason to have Thomas in the game.
"He tried so hard last year, but every time we put him in the game, teams just went right at him," Matta said.
It was late in the season that Matta and Richardson got together and decided that they would reverse field with Thomas, instead electing to have him shed the weight he gained.
"The weight he put on affected his movement and his ability to get up and down the floor," Richardson said. "It just wasn't going to work."
Now Thomas is down to 214 pounds and has become a difficult match-up. Still regarded for his offensive exploits, he's become a solid defender --- clear by the job he's done recently on Michigan State's Draymond Green, Purdue's Robbie Hummel and Gonzaga's Elias Harris.
"I'll be honest," Thomas said. "Last year coming off the bench, I just wanted to score."
That was no secret. Now he does more than just score.
It wasn't an easy task for Thomas, though, replacing the do-it-all veteran David Lighty in the starting lineup, a mammoth task for a guy who was considered one-dimensional. Lighty was a fan-favorite, the guy who could score, rebound, pass and was also one of the most versatile defenders in the country.
"It was tough," Thomas admitted. "Dave Lighty was the heart and soul of this team. He did everything."
On a night where senior William Buford and the defensive-minded Craft were no-shows on the offensive end in the first half, it was Thomas who carried the Buckeyes. Thomas and Sullinger managed to outscore Cincinnati in the first half, Thomas making 8 of 12 shots while Sullinger nearly added a double-double with 10 points and nine boards by the time the two teams went into the locker room.
Ohio State took a 12-point lead into the second half, but the Bearcats wouldn't go away -- even taking the lead on Cashmere Wright's 3-pointer with 14 minutes left in the game. Cincinnati did a solid job taking away Thomas, for the most part, in the second 20 minutes -- but that opened it up for his teammates. Craft started to get hot on both ends of the court, Sullinger took advantage of fewer double-teams and Thomas still managed to play a critical role down the stretch with high IQ plays.
"He takes good shots now," Craft said of Thomas. "Last year it was really tough to get the ball back when we gave it to him."
Ohio State now advances to play Syracuse with a Final Four berth on the line. This is a Buckeyes group that many feel underachieved this season. It was a team selected as one of the elite entering the season, but one that finished in a three-way tie for the Big Ten regular-season title with Michigan State and Michigan and one that lost in the league tournament championship game. Despite a subpar (and that's putting it nicely) performance from Buford, the Buckeyes survived against sixth-seeded Cincinnati. Thomas led all scorers with 26 points, grabbed seven rebounds and was solid on the defensive end.
"Everything to do with offense," Ohio State guard Lenzelle Smith said. "Deshaun is all about it."
That's the old Deshaun Thomas. The new one can score -- and isn't a liability on the other end of the floor. While Sullinger drew the assignment of containing Bearcats man-child Yancy Gates, Thomas provided support in holding him to just seven points and five boards. He was also agile enough to chase around Cincinnati's guards on the perimeter.
That wouldn't have been possible a year ago.
"Not a chance," Thomas said.

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