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Villanova defeats Ohio State men 71-61 in NCAA Tournament

The Ohio State comeback came up short.
Credit: AP Photo/Keith Srakocic
Ohio State's Malaki Branham (22) tries to get the ball past Villanova's Caleb Daniels (14) during the first half of a college basketball game in the second round of the NCAA tournament, Sunday, March 20, 2022, in Pittsburgh.

PITTSBURGH — Collin Gillespie scored 20 points, Eric Dixon hit a big 3-pointer late and second-seeded Villanova fended off seventh-seeded Ohio State 71-61 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.

The Wildcats (28-7) earned their eighth trip to the Sweet 16 under Jay Wright after surviving a second-half push from the Buckeyes (20-12), who trimmed a 15-point deficit to two before Villanova regained its footing.

The Wildcats will continue their quest for a third national title in seven seasons when they face 11th-seeded Michigan (19-14) in the South Region semifinals on Thursday night in San Antonio.

Malachi Branham scored 15 of his 23 points in the second half. E.J. Liddell added 17 in likely his final game with the Buckeyes before heading to the NBA.

Villanova led wire-to-wire but there were some tense moments down the stretch. A 3-pointer by Ohio State's Jamari Wheeler drew the Buckeyes within 60-58 with 5:39 to play. The Buckeyes got no closer.

Samuels hit a layup and Gillespie knocked down a pull-up jumper while Ohio State went cold.

When the Buckeyes tried to trap Gillespie in the post late, he found Dixon open at the 3-point line and the sophomore knocked down the shot to make it 67-59 with 1:38 left to end any chance the Buckeyes had of reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2013.

Ohio State missed six of its last seven shots after Wheeler's 3 brought a portion of the scarlet-clad crowd that made the three-hour drive from Columbus to its feet.

The second weekend of the tournament has become a familiar destination for the Wildcats since Wright took over in 2004. After a so-so — by the program's high standards — regular season, Villanova looks dangerous once again.

A week after rolling to the Big East Tournament title, the Wildcats won their first two tournament games in Pittsburgh by double digits, just as they did in 2018 on their way to a national title.

The Buckeyes overwhelmed Loyola Chicago in the first round, smothering the Ramblers for 40 minutes while holding the NCAA Tournament darlings to just 41 points.

If Gillespie and Caleb Daniels weren't doing whatever they wanted off the dribble Sunday, Dixon was getting easy looks in the lane. The defensive swagger Ohio State had on Friday vanished against the more polished and poised Wildcats.

Gillespie scored 10 consecutive points on a pair of free throws, two 3-pointers and a steal and layup as Villanova needed less than eight minutes to build a double-digit lead on its way to a 39-28 halftime lead.

A layup by Jermaine Samuels made it 46-31 early in the second half before Branham and Liddell almost single-handedly brought the Buckeyes back.

Ohio State forward Kyle Young left with 8:55 to play after getting hit in the head. He did not return. He had missed the Big Ten Tournament while being in the concussion protocol

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