- Dana O'Neil, ESPN Senior Writer
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PITTSBURGH -- Quick thoughts on Ohio State’s 78-59 win over Loyola in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Overview: UNC Asheville gave the underdogs hope here, pushing Syracuse to the limit before losing.
Ohio State was not going to let Pittsburgh turn into the land of the dreamers. The Buckeyes did not make this complicated, giving the ball to their big guys down low and getting out of the way, Jimmy Patsos' biggest fears realized.
“I see Ohio State having a chance to go to the Final Four because of their size,’’ he said on Wednesday.
Only a late -- very late -- rally even allowed this one to get closer in the final box score. It forced Thad Matta to reinsert his starters after pulling them early in the game.
That end-of-game hiccup aside, this win continues an impressive late-season rally for a Buckeyes team that looked to be losing its way in February. Sullinger came back to win a national title, a goal that looked to be out of reach amid in-house issues midseason. But Ohio State has reeled off five wins in its past six games, the lone misstep being that incredible Big Ten tournament title game.
The Buckeyes are a No. 2 seed in name only.
Turning point: Not much of one here, as the Buckeyes did what high seeds are supposed to do to low seeds. They took control early and never really allowed the Greyhounds to pose much of a threat. By halftime the lead was 11 and Ohio State stepped on the gas from there. Matta, like most coaches, wasn't thrilled afterward, picking apart the Buckeyes' turnovers (they had 18), but it was of little consequence in a game they won easily.
Key player: Thomas was a matchup disaster for Loyola, which could match neither his power nor his athleticism. The sophomore scored a career high 31. He had 12 rebounds to complete the double-double, slicing and dicing his way to the basket with almost fluid ease. Aside from when he sees the green of Draymond Green and Michigan State (Thomas was 9-of-24 in the regular-season finale and Big Ten title game), Thomas has been terrific lately, scoring 20 or more five times in the Buckeyes’ past nine games.
Key stat: Not so much a stat but a pace. The Buckeyes got exactly what they wanted -- a grind-it-out, half-court game that kept Loyola’s up-tempo game in check. Loyola had zero fast-break points, completely contrary to the style Patsos was hoping he could force on Ohio State. It was grind-out, Big Ten basketball at its best and an impossible recipe for the Greyhounds to digest.
Miscellaneous: Patsos was facing an old coworker and good friend. Dave Dickerson is an assistant on Matta’s bench. Dickerson and Patsos coached together as assistants to Gary Williams. Patsos joked before the game that Dickerson would know his every play, since he’s pretty faithful to Williams’ old flex offense.
Next game: The No. 2-seeded Buckeyes face Gonzaga in the third round on Saturday, which should make for a few fun matchups to watch -- namely freshman point guard Kevin Pangos against sophomore Aaron Craft, and Robert Sacre against Sullinger down low.