Ohio State started the year as a trendy national championship pick after sophomore big man Jared Sullinger surprised many in the offseason, returning to school instead of declaring for the NBA draft. But it’s the complementary pieces around Sullinger who have the Buckeyes back in the Sweet 16 for a third straight season.
Point guard Aaron Craft was spectacular on both ends of the floor and sophomore Deshaun Thomas again gave No. 2 seed Ohio State a much-needed scoring boost as the Buckeyes hung on late to beat No. 7 seed Gonzaga, 73-66, in an East Region round-of-32 game in Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Craft tied his season high by scoring 17 points and dishing out 10 assists, showing off an aggressiveness on offense to go along with his trademark tenacity on defense that befuddled Gonzaga much of the day. Thomas, meanwhile, backed up his tournament-high 31-point performance in Ohio State’s round-of-64 win over Loyola (Md.) on Thursday with 18 points against the Bulldogs.
But after trailing by 10 points in the second half, Gonzaga tied the score at 61 with less than four minutes remaining when forward Elias Harris (16 points) capped off a 13-3 Bulldogs run with a three-pointer from the corner.
Sullinger, though, awoke just in time, scoring 10 of his 18 points in the final 11 minutes of the game.
He put the Buckeyes back on top by completing a tough post move with 3 minutes 38 seconds to go, his first field goal in more than 29 minutes of action. Then, after he missed two free throws on the previous possession, Sullinger gave Ohio State a two-possession lead on a jump hook over three defenders — a move that he celebrated by flexing his muscles to the crowd.
Gonzaga, meanwhile, had just one field goal after tying the score late. Freshman guard Gary Bell Jr, led the Bulldogs with 18 points. Gonzaga has qualified for the NCAA tournament in 14 straight seasons, but since 2007 they’ve made it out of the first weekend just once.
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