Saturday, March 24, 2012
Rapid Reax: Ohio State 77, Syracuse 70
By Jack McCluskey
BOSTON -- A quick take on No. 2 seed Ohio State’s 77-70 victory over No. 1 seed Syracuse in Elite Eight action in the East Regional at TD Garden on Saturday night:
Overview: Unfortunately, the officiating was more of a story in this one than anyone would’ve liked. There were some truly questionable calls, on both teams. And while these are two physical teams and there was always going to be some contact, the crew of John Higgins, Michael Nance and Thomas O’Neill was often far too willing to blow the whistle.
Jared Sullinger picked up two quick fouls in the first half and was limited to four points (2-for-4 shooting) and three rebounds in only six minutes. Syracuse had more personal fouls at the half (12) than it had made field goals (10).
The result was an uneven flow to the game, with lots of stops and starts and not as much back-and-forth action.
Turning point: It came late in the second half. Ohio State had taken a 10-point lead early in the half on a combination of Sullinger offense and Aaron Craft defense, and forced Syracuse to play from behind.
The Orange chip, chip, chipped away at the Buckeyes lead for the next few minutes, cutting it all the way to one. But every time the Buckeyes absolutely had to have a bucket, their big man was there. Sullinger managed to stay on the floor in the second half, and showed what he’s capable of when he can avoid the whistles.
After Brandon Triche hit a 3 to pull Syracuse within one at 55-54, Sullinger got the ball on the right block and threw in a turnaround jumper off the glass to keep Ohio State ahead.
He consistently got the ball in the post, didn’t shy away from the inevitable contact (and, yes, occasionally benefited from a questionable call) and made more of his foul shots than he missed (9-for-12).
And when Syracuse was mounting a furious charge late -- including a 3-point play by Dion Waiters that cut the Buckeyes’ lead to three with 33.1 remaining -- Sullinger got the ball on the inbounds, got fouled and made one of two free throws to give Ohio State a four-point lead.
That essentially booked the Buckeyes’ trip to the next round.
Key player: Sullinger. The big man was the difference in the second half, scoring 15 points and giving Ohio State a steady offensive presence with which to combat the vaunted Syracuse zone.
Key stat: Free throws. In a game dominated by physical play and riddled with whistles, it figured that the team with the better showing at the free throw line would have a big advantage.
While Syracuse actually shot a better percentage, 80 to 73.2, Ohio State took 17 more freebies (42-25) and made 11 more (31-20).
What’s next: For Ohio State, a trip to New Orleans. For Syracuse, a trip home.
Next Saturday in the Final Four, Ohio State will face the winner of Sunday's Midwest final between No. 2 seed Kansas and No. 1 seed North Carolina in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
It’s the 11th Final Four appearance for Ohio State, the second under Thad Matta, and the first since 2007, when the Buckeyes lost in the national championship game to Florida.
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.