Overview: Both teams were looking to take advantage of mismatches. Cincinnati hoped its four-guard lineup would cause problems for the bigger Ohio State lineup. Ohio State hoped its size and skill inside would prove overpowering.
Turns out, both teams were right at times.
Deshaun Thomas had scored 30 points in the paint in Ohio State’s first two tourney games, the most in the Dance. So of course the 6-foot-7, 225-pounder took his game outside on Thursday -- hitting 3 of 5 first-half 3-pointers and scoring 20 points in the opening 20 minutes.
But in the second half, the Bearcats turned up the intensity on defense and started hitting shots, their guards using their quickness to cause turnovers and score in transition. Sean Kilpatrick hit a long 2, then a 3, then another 3 and suddenly the 6-seed was back in it.
Turning point: Cincinnati scored the game’s first five points, but Ohio State scored 15 of the next 19 to take control. The Buckeyes led by as many as 13 in the first half and were up a dozen at the break.
Thad Matta’s bunch was 26-1 this season when leading at the half, so this one was in the bag, right?
Cincinnati had other ideas.
The Bearcats used a 14-2 run early in the second half to even the game at 41, then an 8-4 run to take their largest lead since the opening minutes at 49-45 with 12:13 to go.
But after Yancy Gates converted an old-fashioned three-point play to put Cincinnati up 52-48, Ohio State went back to its strength inside. Jared Sullinger got fouled in the paint and hit two free throws, sparking a 17-1 Buckeyes run that essentially ended the drama in this one.
Key player: Jared Sullinger. While Thomas fueled the Buckeyes in the first half, he wasn’t nearly as effective in the second. Luckily for OSU, Sullinger was just as effective in the final 20 minutes as he was in the first 20 minutes.
The sophomore big man followed up a 10-point, nine-rebound first half with a 13-point, 2-rebound second half to post final line of 23 and 11.
Key stats: Second-chance points and free throws.
Ohio State took advantage of its size inside, and its willingness to crash the offensive boards, to compile a 13-5 edge in second-chance points.
And while points in the paint were relatively similar (30 for OSU, 28 for Cincinnati), the Buckeyes’ banging inside helped them get to the line often. Led by Sullinger’s 9-for-10 performance, OSU shot 19-for-27 from the charity stripe on the night.
What’s next: Ohio State moves on to the Elite Eight on Saturday. The Buckeyes will face No. 1 seed Syracuse, which beat No. 4 seed Wisconsin in a thriller 64-63 in the first game Thursday.
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.