Against George Mason, Ohio State won one for the big guys
By Mike Wise,
Goliath wore scarlet and gray Sunday. His triple-XL jersey clung to his bulging torso like Spandex. His voluminous trunks could comfortably sleep four. And he smiled, too — a menacing smile. At 6 feet 9 and perhaps a postgame meal shy of 300 pounds, Jared Sullinger wore a grin that spanned from Quicken Loans Arena to Columbus.
Goliath was happy, because he had friends — lots of friends.
This was for all the big schools, for every top seed knocked out by the little guy.
This was for everyone who got caught up in the sentimentality of Mason Nation again, who actually believed a very balanced, good team from the Colonial Athletic Association — a team that tied the 2005-06 squad for most wins in program history — could actually scale Mount Buckeye.
Nuh-uh. Big Ten school by a knockout.
As a Bill Walton parody account tweeted during the most unsightly blowout of the past four days, “George Mason hasn’t been this overwhelmed since his anti-federalism movement collapsed in 1789.”
After an enthralling 11-2 run to open the game and wake up the echoes of 2006, the Patriots were put away with a thorough, breathtaking 50-15 run.
Sullinger played just 22 of 40 minutes, leaving with 18 points and eight rebounds — several of which came on chin-up dunks. But it was guys like David Lighty hitting all seven three-pointers he threw up — only one player in NCAA tournament history has had a better perfect game from three-point range — that opened the dike.
It was players like Aaron Craft coming off the bench and distributing 15 assists, and William Buford and Jon Diebler combining for 31 points.
The Mason faithful had never run into a team this complete, big or skilled.
And, okay, they were missing their main assist man and key offensive weapon, Luke Hancock, who came down with some kind of intestinal problem that kept him up all night and hooked up to intravenous fluids all day. Hancock made it to the game by halftime, but ended up lying down in the training room, too fatigued to play.
Would his presence have mattered? Yes. Would his presence have mattered enough to do the unthinkable and beat the Buckeyes? Doubtful.
Ohio State’s seven best players could shoot, pass and handle the basketball with aplomb. George Mason concentrated on Sullinger and Diebler, but couldn’t stop everyone. As Coach Jim Larranaga said, “If you’re fourth option is playing that well [Buford], it’s hard to guard them.”
Cam Long ended his college career having played more games than any player in program history. He was respectable in defeat, balancing 16 points and six rebounds with seven turnovers. But like most George Mason players Sunday who had neither the girth nor the quickness to get around their defender, it was almost impossible for the team’s senior leader to create his own shot when Ohio State genuinely wanted to play defense.
Bottom line: Ohio State is the most complete team in the country. Duke plays better together, North Carolina is longer and more athletic and Kansas is just a smidge behind the Buckeyes in talent. But Ohio State has all the tools — the preeminent big man in college, perimeter threats to burn and nails-tough defense — to cut down the nets in two weeks.
Sullinger, just a freshman, attended one of George Mason’s 2006 tournament games — and remembered that team fondly. “I actually came to see them play North Carolina in Dayton, before an Ohio State-Georgetown game,” he said. “I was rooting for North Carolina because I’m a huge Michael Jordan fan. But I left thinking that was the best team I saw as far as how they played together.”
He will most likely turn pro this June, and will go either first, second or third in the draft.
In some ways, it doesn’t seem fair — a kid that large and that good ending a senior’s college basketball career. But then, Connecticut probably felt the same way five years ago when the Patriots turned the tables.
For what it’s worth, George Mason’s band was phenomenal the whole weekend — from Def Leppard to Kanye West, they brought the noise. But their timing for “Don’t Stop Believing” mirrored their team’s need for better spacing. It was 67-42 almost midway through the second half when the Journey anthem was played long after everyone had stopped believing.
It felt like the last song played at your junior prom, after all the cool kids had gone home with their dates and just the socially awkward had been left behind.
Told his team had a great season, even though that might be hard to understand at the moment, Larranaga said: “It’s not hard to see that now. . . . We just ran into a great team playing great today.”
A team with Goliath and friends, all of whom essentially took the Philistine’s stone, crushed it with their bare hands and moved on to face Kentucky in the round of 16.
Potentates 98, Peasants 66. Order has been restored to the NCAA tournament.