Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Thad Minute: Buckeyes advance to the Sweet 16 (again)

Sam Thompson put on a dunking clinic all-night, in the
Buckeyes 95-70 win over #15-seeded Iona, last Friday night.
Thad Matta's basketball program at THE Ohio State University, are making trips to the Sweet 16, an annually occasion.

Thad Matta & Co. are making yet another trip to the Sweet 16 (fourth-straight), albeit with a little late-game drama this past Sunday afternoon.

Over the past weekend down the road from Columbus in Dayton at historic UD Arena, the Buckeyes used an all-around team effort to pick up a pair of wins over #15-seeded Iona (95-70) and #10-seeded Iowa State (78-75). The Buckeyes, who have struggled in years past to win at UD Arena in the NCAA tournament, are the highest seeded team (#2 seed) remaining in the wild wild West Region. The team now travels out west, to play their Sweet 16 game at the Staple Center, in downtown Los Angeles. The Buckeyes, two wins away from back-to-back Final Four appearances, look to extend their 10-game winning streak, as they now face the #6-seeded Arizona Wildcats, Thursday Night (7:47, TBS). Lets take a look back and recap this past weekend's pair of games, and relive the drama from Sunday afternoon's thrilling Round of 32 game.

What was that, a slam dunk contest? Not exactly, but it sure felt like it during the Buckeyes 25-point blowout victory over the Iona Gaels, last Friday night. After allowing the first two buckets of the game, and only leading by one (7-6) at the first official timeout, the Buckeyes put on a show from there. The Scarlet and Grey, jump started by the play of PG Aaron Craft, went on a 15-0 run to lead 20-6 at the 12:13 mark of the 1st half. The current run would eventually balloon to a 22-2 run, giving the Buckeyes a comfortable lead (27-8), with 8:46 remaining in the 1st half. However, Iona would not go away, and went on their own run (25-10), cutting the Buckeyes lead to four, 37-33. With just over a minute and a half, remaining, Sophomore forward Sam "High Flying" Thompson, delivered a thunderous dunk, sparking the Buckeyes late 1st half run of 6-straight points, to give themselves a 10-point lead (43 to 33) at the break.

Out of the break, the Buckeyes continued their run scoring the first 9-points of the 2nd half, to take a 52-33, lead that was never seriously challenged from that point on in the game. The Buckeyes received a career game from Thompson, 20 points and 10 rebounds, who has really been impressive as of late, ever since the postseason play begin during the B1G tournament up in Chicago. DeShaun Thomas "one more year, one more year", scored a game-high 24-points, as starting guard Lenzelle Smith, Jr. chipped in 12-points and the lone Senior on the team, Evan Ravenel scored 11-points off the bench. The Buckeyes received a stellar performance all-around from PG Aaron Craft, as once again he filled up a stat sheet (4 points, 7 assists, and 6 steals), in what would be a preview of his heroics, later in the weekend. For Iona, who came into the game averaging 80 ppg (2nd in the nation), guard Taylor Sledge led the team with 20-points, as they committed 19 turnovers and shot just 21% from the arc (6 of 28).

Aaron Craft allowed the Cyclones to come back, but with one shot, all was forgiven.

Author sidenote: It just ain't March Madness, without a little shouting & pacing around the living room floor. I may not paint my face or wear all sorts of swag on gameday, but I bet they ain't many others, that have as much passion and love, for the world of sports like me. This past Sunday afternoon, was another classic and prime example, of why I love sports so much, and wouldn't change it for the world. Watching the Buckeyes slowly let a 13-point 2nd half lead slip away against Iowa State, I could only think about the other heartbreak sporting events that I have had to witness over the years, and just couldn't believe I was witness once again another one, or so I thought at the time. Then Aaron Craft drilled a 3-pointer (his one and only of the game) with 0.5 seconds left, and another heartbreaking event turned into yet another memorable afternoon of pacing around the living room.

In the West region that didn't see the #1, #3, #4, or #5 seeds survive the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, the #2 Buckeyes did what all teams need to do this time of year, survive and advance. Getting a tough challenge all afternoon, from the #10-seeded Iowa State Cyclones, the Buckeyes landed the knockout punch, right at the sound of the ring. The Buckeyes survived an onslaught of 3-point baskets from ISU (12), and countered with a number of their own (9), in a game that was filled with late-game drama. The Cyclones jumped out to an early 7-2 lead in the 1st half, only to be countered by the Buckeyes 12-2 spurt to put OSU up 14-9 with 12:21 remaining in the 1st half. The Buckeyes largest lead in the first half was six-points (22-16), as the Cyclones refused to go away and continued to nail three's, six of them in the 1st half. With the scored knotted at 25 a piece, the lead changed hands seven times in the final five minutes of the 1st half, and after the dust had settled, the Buckeyes were ahead by two (38 to 36) at halftime.

With 14:14 remaining in the game the Buckeyes lead 52-46, only to see Iowa State run off five-straight points, cutting the lead to one, causing the Buckeyes to call a timeout. However, the timeout would be beneficial for the Buckeyes as they went on a 10-0 run (eight of those points coming from reserve player Q "X-factor" Ross), to lead 62-51 with just under nine minutes left in the game. The largest lead in the 2nd half was 13-points at 69-56, following a layup from backup point guard Shannon "i drop dimes" Scott. It looked like the Buckeyes would coast to another double-digit victory, but Iowa State would not allow that. Led by their Senior PG Korie Lucious (transfer from Michigan State) and the team's ability to knockdown the three's, the Cyclones, with a little help from some missed free throws by Craft and some untimely turnovers, stormed all the way back, using a 16-2 run to take a lead at 72-71 with just a little over three minutes to go in the game.

In the final three minutes, each team traded leads, and with the score tied at 75-75, the Cyclones were unable to secure a rebound before knocking it out of bounds. This gave the Buckeyes the chance for the final shot of the game with 30 seconds to go, setting the stage for Craft's late-game heroics. Calling off DeShaun Thomas, and taking it into his own hands, as we all screamed at our televisions sets to "GET IT OFF, SHOOT THE BALL, WE DONE BLEW THIS ONE, OVERTIME", Craft stepped into a three and nailed it, lofting it over the outstretched hand of an ISU defender. The Cyclones would get 0.5 seconds left, but as their three-quarters court heave was knocked down by, who else...Aaron Craft, the Buckeye fans that made the trip down I-70 just a little over an hour away from the capital city, could finally relax and enjoy the moment. Iowa State, who played an outstanding game, providing the Buckeyes with a tough challenge, fell one three-pointer short. Lucious, finished the game with a team-high 19-points.

Now, all the focus turns to a Sweet 16 matchup vs. the Arizona Wildcats and a familar face. Sean Miller, former Xaiver Head Coach and an assist under Thad Matta there, is in his fourth season out in Tucson, and has lead the Wildcats to their second trip to the Sweet 16 in three years. The Wildcats took care of a pair of upset-minded foes this past weekend, defeating #11-seeded Belmont and #14-seeded Harvard, both by double-digits. The Wildcats, who started the season 14-0, are looking more like that team, then the team that struggled at times during the PAC-12 season. Led by Senior PG Mark Lyons (transfer from Xavier), scoring 15 ppg, is flanked by swingman, Soloman Hill (13 ppg) and guard Nick Johnson (12 ppg), they should provide a stellar challenge for a Buckeyes defense, that has been suffocating opponents, during the team's late-season winning streak. It should be another March Madness classic between Matta & Miller, as this will be the first time the two have faced each other, since the memorable 2007 Round of 32 OT thriller, with the Buckeyes coming out on top of Miller's Xavier squad, 77-71.