Men's basketball | Wichita State 70, Ohio State 66: Quite a shocker

Second-half rally comes up short as miserable shooting dooms Ohio State’s bid to reach its second straight Final Four

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Kyle Robertson | Dispatch
A dejected Aaron Craft, right, answers questions from the media as reserve center Trey McDonald looks on.

LOS ANGELES — Ohio State ran out of miracles last night.

   Down by 20 points with less than 11 minutes to play, and by 15 with less than seven, the team that had won its previous two NCAA Tournament games on three-point baskets in the final seconds rallied within three of Wichita State in the last three minutes of the West Regional championship game.

   But the Buckeyes, who had won 11 consecutive games, couldn’t produce another thrilling ending and fell 70-66 to the Shockers, missing out on what would have been a second consecutive trip to the Final Four.

   “We played so well for such an extended period of time, and we weren’t very good to start the game,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “Give Wichita State credit. Tremen- dous, unbelievable basketball team, and they’re playing as well as any team we’ve played.”

   The Shockers (30-8), the No. 9 seed in the West, will play in a national semifinal next weekend for the first time since 1965.

   “I understand they’re shooting off fireworks in the city,” coach Gregg Marshall said.

   Deshaun Thomas led Ohio State (29-8) with 23 points in what could have been his final game for the Buckeyes. He is expected to enter the NBA draft despite having a year of eligibility remaining. He did not reveal his plans when asked.

   LaQuinton Ross added 19 points, but in a flashback to their early-season form, the Buckeyes shot only 31.1 percent from the field, their second-lowest percentage of the season.

   “The way we shot the ball coming into the Elite Eight and Sweet 16, man, everything was falling,” Thomas said. “Today wasn’t our night. Nothing was falling.”

   Much like Wisconsin, the Shockers sagged in on defense to prevent penetration by Aaron Craft and challenged the Buckeyes to beat them from outside. They also held Ohio State scoreless in transition and gave up only six points off turnovers. Those were two staples of the Buckeyes’ success in their 11-game win streak.

   “They’re definitely one of the more physical teams we’ve played,” Craft said. “They did a good job of packing it in, kind of like Wisconsin, (but) they had a couple shot-blockers a little better than the ones at Wisconsin.”

   Carl Hall had six of Wichita State’s nine blocked shots.

   Point guard Malcolm Arm-stead, who led the Shockers with 14 points, said the key to neutralizing Craft and his teammates’ ability to create turnovers was “keeping him on his heels. He tried to (pin) you on the sideline, corner you and speed you up a lot. I knew if I was keeping him on his heels and attacking him, and my teammates were doing the same, there wasn’t going to be a problem.”

   Down 60-45 with less than seven minutes remaining, the Buckeyes roused the crowd by rallying as close as 62-59 with 2:49 to play on six straight points by Thomas, five in a row by Ross, and two free throws by Shannon Scott.

   But on Wichita State’s ensuing possession, Ross was late closing out on a three-pointer by Tekele Cotton, and the Buckeyes never again got it to a one-possession game.

   A driving layup by Thomas made it 65-61 with 2:07 to play, but Cotton’s rebound of a missed shot by the Shockers on their next possession enabled them to run more than a minute off the clock before Fred Van-Vleet’s layup increased their lead to 67-61 with 59.3 seconds to play. Two free throws built it to 69-61 with 51 seconds left.

   “You’ve got to give them a lot of credit,” Craft said. “They came out firing, and we never really kind of regained our balance until it was too late.” bbaptist@dispatch.com  

   @BBaptistHoops

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