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Monday, March 26, 2012
Ohio State, Louisville advance to Final Four
BOSTON — Ohio State coach Thad Matta sized up his team in the middle of the season and had it figured for an early loss when the NCAA tournament came around.
The final weekend of March Madness is next, and the Buckeyes will be there.
Jared Sullinger recovered from first-half foul trouble to score 19 points and grab seven rebounds, helping Ohio State beat top-seeded Syracuse 77-70 on Saturday to advance to the Final Four in New Orleans. The second-seeded Buckeyes will play the winner of Sunday's Midwest Regional final between North Carolina and Kansas.
"We're not going down to New Orleans for a vacation. It's a business trip," said Sullinger, who picked up his second foul 6 minutes into the game and did not return the rest of the half. "These guys have played without me before, so they know what they have to do."
Deshaun Thomas scored 14 with nine rebounds for Ohio State (31-7), which led by eight points with 59 seconds to play and held on after the Orange cut it to three. The Buckeyes made 13 of 14 free throws in the final 68 seconds and 31 of 42 from the line in all.
Ohio State is making its first trip to the Final Four since 2007, when it lost in the national championship game to Florida. They had lost in the regional semifinals in each of the past two seasons, and Matta wasn't even sure they would make it that far after a series of unimpressive practices.
When the Buckeyes, who spent five weeks as the No. 2 team in the nation, closed out February with three defeats in five games — including a home loss to Wisconsin on Feb. 26 — Matta had more reason to worry.
But he got the response he was hoping for.
"That loss opened their eyes and said, 'Hey, maybe we're not as good as we think we are,' " Matta said. "Maybe it got us pointed in the right direction."
Brandon Triche scored 15 points and Baye Keita had 10 rebounds for Syracuse (34-3). The Orange were hoping for a return trip to New Orleans, where they won their only national championship in 2003.
Louisville 72, Florida 68
In Phoenix, Florida blew an 11-point lead in the second half and couldn't convert on numerous chances down the stretch, blowing a shot at another Final Four with a loss to Louisville in the West Regional final.
"Certainly, emotionally going into the game it's always a difficult situation like that, with our relationship, but I don't think any coach enjoys losing in this type of situation," Gators coach Billy Donovan said. "But if I had to lose, it would have to be him, to have him toward the end of his career to enjoy this experience."
Donovan had done his best to escape the shadow of Cardinals coach Rick Pitino, his former coach and boss, winning two national championships and making three trips to the Final Four.
Donovan hadn't beaten Pitino in six previous tries, but appeared to be headed toward a breakthrough win after the Gators hit eight 3-pointers and shot 72 percent in the first half against one of the nation's best defenses.
Florida (26-11) missed all nine of its 3-point shots in the second half, yet still managed to lead 58-47 with just under 11 minutes left.
The Gators couldn't hold off the charging Cardinals (30-9), though, allowing them to go on a 10-0 run and to hit all the big shots late.
Florida had seven missed shots and a turnover in the final 2:39, leaving Donovan with the most disappointing of his seven losses to his former boss. Bradley Beal and Erik Murphy had 14 points each, and Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker added 12 apiece.