PITTSBURGH -- Quick thoughts from Ohio State’s 73-66 win over Gonzaga in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
Overview: No one will ever say Gonzaga is soft. No one will ever say Ohio State is just about Jared Sullinger.
Not after this game.
Sullinger proved bigger than the Zags’ bigs in the end, scoring the critical bucket, but it was really the rest of the Buckeyes who won this game. Aaron Craft (17 points), Deshaun Thomas (18) and William Buford (13) proved the difference-makers as Ohio State returns to the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive time.
A team that played like a chemistry experiment gone awry only a month ago is now a picture of basketball harmony.
Ohio State looked like your typical No. 2 seed against Loyola, cruising to the win, and overcame a Gonzaga team screaming for the upset.
Turning point: Sullinger couldn’t find a lot of breathing room in the second half, not with Sacre glued to his hip. Sullinger, limited by foul trouble in the first half, was stymied by defense in the second, connecting on only three field goals.
But when Ohio State needed its big man most, he turned up.
Sullinger scored what would be the game-winner with 57 seconds left.
He connected on a hard-fought shot from underneath around Sacre, giving the Buckeyes the 66-61 lead, all the cushion Ohio State would need to secure the win.
Key player: Craft. Sullinger may have played hero but it was the steady hand of Craft that steered the Buckeyes to the Sweet 16. In a game billed as a matchup of point guards, Craft got the edge over Kevin Pangos, scoring 17 points -- but more critically, he dished out 10 assists. It was Craft’s first career double-double.
Key stat: Sullinger, limited to just nine minutes in the fist half, still had eight points. Despite playing more in the second, he would connect on just two more field goals thanks to the ferocious defense of Sacre. The Zags, led by Sacre and Harris, outrebounded the Buckeyes, 34-30, which is what kept the game close.
Miscellaneous: This was the first meeting between Ohio State and Gonzaga. ... John Stockton was on hand to watch his son, David, play for Gonzaga, his alma mater. ... This is the first time in school history OSU has made the Sweet 16 three straight years since expansion in 1979.
Next game: Ohio State will meet either Cincinnati or Florida State in the Sweet 16 in Boston. This is the Buckeyes' third consecutive regional semifinal appearance. They lost in the Sweet 16 to Kentucky a year ago.