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First-game wins in the NCAA Tournament often aren’t the most artistic displays by the higher-seeded teams.
But it beats the alternative.
Hours after top-seeded Syracuse averted the first upset in tournament history of a No.1 seed by a 16th seed, second-seeded Ohio State struggled with shooting, ball security and foul trouble last night. But the Buckeyes were able to ride the hot hand of Deshaun Thomas in the second half to a 78-59 victory in over Loyola (Md.) in the Consol Energy Center.
“Obviously, this tournament is about advancing, and that’s what we did,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “But I don’t think we played at the level we need to.”
Thomas scored 13 straight points in the second half and a career-high 31 in the game to send the Buckeyes (28-7) into an East Regional third-round matchup with Gonzaga (26-6) on Saturday. The Bulldogs, the seventh seed, routed West Virginia 77-54 in another second-round game.
Saturday’s game will start at approximately 2:45 p.m. and be broadcast by CBS. The other third-round game, between Syracuse and Kansas State, will tip off at 12:15 p.m. The winners advance to the Sweet 16 in Boston next week.
“I think this was a wake-up call,” Jared Sullinger said. “After what Gonzaga did to West Virginia, they’re going to look to do the same thing against us. If we come out and play the way we played today . . . we’re definitely going to be packing our bags and going home for sure.”
Thomas also had a game-high 12 rebounds for Ohio State, one off his career high. William Buford had 17 points and Sullinger 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Ohio State outscored Loyola 38-24 in the paint and outrebounded the Greyhounds 49-24.
“I said I was worried about Deshaun Thomas,” Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos said. “Jimmy doesn’t just bar tend (as he did while a Maryland assistant in the 1990s); he knows basketball, too.”
Erik Etherly led Loyola (24-9) with 19 points.
“We came into the game just looking at it as though all the pressure was on them,” Etherly said. “There was no pressure on us. They’re the two seed. We’re the 15. They’re supposed to win that game. Go in there with nothing to lose.”
Ohio State started the game with six straight points by Sullinger and built a nine-point lead, but Loyola cut it back to six.
The Buckeyes stretched their lead back to 15 before scoring only five points in the last 5:21 of the first half and settling for an 11-point lead at halftime.
They started the second half fast to take a 17-point lead but again let it dwindle. Thomas’ 13-point run helped boost the margin to 19 points with 12:35 left, and it was 20 with 5:35 to play.
But with Thomas, Buford and Sullinger on the bench, Loyola scored nine straight points to make it an 11-point game with 2:18 to play and forced Matta to put the three back in the game.
“We made our runs and then we relaxed,” Matta said. “We’d make our runs again, then we would relax. Some of the turnovers we had were just uncharacteristic.”
Ohio State had 18 turnovers, its most in 19 games.
“Fortunately for us, (Thomas) kept his foot on the gas offensively,” Matta said. “But . . . we didn’t have that toughness. We did some very, very good things in the game, but (there) wasn’t the consistency.”
The Buckeyes fell back into some bad habits in shooting 34.3 percent in the first half, taking quick shots from the perimeter instead of striving for better ones closer to the basket. Fortunately, they outscored Loyola 15-4 from the free throw line.
“We talked about those (quick shots) in the timeouts,” Matta said, “like, ‘OK, hold up there.’”
They shot 60.9 percent in the second half and limited Loyola to 28.
“We weren’t dialed into this game,” guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said. “We came out and saw who we were playing and, even from the warmups, guys weren’t taking it serious.
“It was a wakeup call. Saturday, we know we’re not going to have a game like this. We’ve got to come out even harder than we’ve ever played. We know they’re going to come out hard after us. Us performing like this, teams are motivated, thinking we’re down as a team or that we’re not going to come to play.
“But I got news. We are.”
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