Jared Sullinger #0 and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. #32 of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrate towards the end of the game against the Syracuse Orange during the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball East Regional Final at TD Garden on March 24, 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Four Buckeyes scored in double figures as No. 2-seed Ohio State knocked off top-seed Syracuse, 77-70, in the East Regional Finals at TD Garden in Boston, Saturday night.
But just looking at the box score doesn’t tell the whole story of how much of a total team effort it was against the Orange.
With 13:42 left in the first half and the Buckeyes leading 13-11, sophomore forward Jared Sullinger picked up his second personal foul and was relegated to the bench for the remainder of the period.
Junior forward Evan Ravenel came off the pine to play the first five minutes in Sullinger’s absence, but he also picked up two fouls in the span.
Going deep into his bench, Ohio State head coach Thad Matta inserted 6-foot-11 freshman center Amir Williams, who had played in just one of the Buckeyes’ first three NCAA tournament games.
Amir Williams #23 of the Ohio State Buckeyes dunks the ball against Kris Joseph #32 of the Syracuse Orange during the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball East Regional Final at TD Garden on March 24, 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Williams entered with 8:45 remaining in the opening period and Ohio State trailing 23-21. He scored three points with four rebounds and two block shots. Ravenel added another three points in five minutes and freshman guard Sam Thompson chipped in a bucket to keep the game close in the first half.
“With Amir Williams, it’s funny because I think dating back when he came back for Christmas, he’s been tremendous in practice, and if you really look across the board when he’s gone in when it mattered, he’s done a heck of a job for us,” Matta said in his post-game press conference. “At Kansas, up at Michigan, he gave us some great minutes, and he went in there tonight and did his job. That’s what we needed him to do.”
Williams has played in 28 of the Buckeyes’ 38 games this season, averaging 1.7 points, 2.2 rebounds and 0.8 blocks in 6.7 minutes of action this season.
“With Amir, Amir always had talent,” Sullinger said after the game. “It’s just unfortunately he’s playing behind me and Evan (Ravenel) at the time, so watch out for him next year.”
At halftime, the game was tied at 29-all even with Ohio State’s best player getting just six minutes of playing time due to foul trouble. But both Sullinger and sophomore guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. took over after the break. Sullinger scored 15 of his team-high 19 points and Smith added 16 of his 18 points in the second half.
Senior guard William Buford’s pair of charity stripe tosses with 18:16 remaining gave the Buckeyes the lead for good and it also ignited a 13-3 run that put Ohio State ahead 46-36, their largest margin of the game.
Syracuse later was able to cut the deficit down to a single point on two occasions, but either Sullinger or Smith scored on the Buckeyes’ next trip down to extend their advantage.
Ohio State head coach Thad Matta cuts down the net after defeating the Syracuse Orange during the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball East Regional Final at TD Garden on March 24, 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Only once did the Orange make it a one-possession game in the final four minutes. After trailing by eight with 59 seconds left, a 7-2 run capped off by a conventional three-point play from Dion Waiters pulled SU within three at 70-67 with 37 ticks left on the clock. But Ohio State made 7-of-8 from the free throw line to seal the deal. The only points scored by Syracuse in the final 37 seconds was a three-pointer from Scoop Jardine that made the final score a little more respectable.
Along with 19 points from Sullinger and another 18 by Smith, sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas added 14 points and senior guard William Buford chipped in 13. Both Thomas and Buford had a team-high nine rebounds.
Ohio State shot 41.7 percent (21-51) from the field and was 4-of-13 (30.8%) from beyond the arc. The Buckeyes were also 31-of-42 (73.8%) from the free throw line. The 42 attempted free throws is an Ohio State record in the NCAA tournament (41 vs. Memphis, 3/24/07). The 31 made free throws are the second most by the Buckeyes in NCAA tournament history (35 vs. Memphis, 3/24/07). The last time Ohio State has attempted 40 or more free throws was vs. North Florida, 1/4/11 (40).
Syracuse shot 41.5 percent (22-55) from the floor and was 6-of-16 (5%) from three-point range. The Orange were 20-of-25 (80.0%) from the foul line.
The Buckeyes also crushed the Orange off the glass, outrebounding Syracuse 39-23.
With the win, Ohio State advances to its 10th Final Four and first since the 2006-07 season. The Buckeyes will play the winner of North Carolina-Kansas, next Saturday night.
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