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Ohio State downs Syracuse to punch ticket to Final Four

Mar 25, 2012 - 3:22 AM Boston, MA (Sports Network) - Another Elite Eight appearance turned into another trip to the Final Four for the Buckeyes.

Jared Sullinger scored 19 points and pulled down seven rebounds, and Ohio State held off Syracuse, 77-70, in the East Regional final of the NCAA Tournament.

Lenzelle Smith Jr., who had three stitches to close a cut near his right eye early in the first half, scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half for the second-seeded Buckeyes.

"He did a lot for us, whether it was offensively or defensively," Ohio State guard Aaron Craft said of Smith. "He stepped up and made a couple big shots for us, and on the other end, as well, he did a good job of keeping their great guards in front of him and trying to do his best."

Ohio State (31-7) gained its first trip to the Final Four since 2007, the year the Buckeyes lost to Florida in the national championship game. Awaiting in New Orleans next Saturday will be North Carolina or Kansas. The Tar Heels and Jayhawks will battle in the Midwest Regional final on Sunday.

This was Ohio State's 11th trip to the Elite Eight. They are 10-1 in those appearances, with the lone loss coming in 1992 to Michigan in overtime. Despite all this, the Buckeyes' only NCAA tourney title came in 1960.

Brandon Triche had 15 points and Scoop Jardine added 14 for top-seeded Syracuse (34-3), which last reached the Final Four in 2003. That year, Syracuse beat Kansas in the title game at the Superdome.

Ohio State went 31-of-42 at the foul line, compared to 20-of-25 for Syracuse.

"Without the referees they played a good game, and that's all I've got to say about that," Jardine said. "We're not going to blame it on the refs. I think we had a chance to win the game no matter what, with the refs or without them giving us any calls. So for the most part, I want to give Ohio State credit and congratulate them on going to the Final Four."

Deshaun Thomas hit a layup to cap eight straight Ohio State points for a 41-33 difference with 15 1/2 minutes left. Smith's 1-of-2 effort at the charity stripe extended Ohio State's lead to 46-36 inside 14 minutes left, but the Orange rallied and eventually got within a point.

Despite Dion Waiters, James Southerland and Rakeem Christmas all picking up four fouls with just over 12 minutes left, the Orange nearly tied it. Kris Joseph, who scored 10 in the game, hit a free throw for a 52-51 difference with 7:43 left. His second try missed.

Smith came right back by nailing a three from the right wing, but Brandon Triche countered with a long-distance bucket.

Baye Keita's 1-of-2 performance from the foul line had the Orange within 57-55 with 5:18 to go, but Sullinger made a pair of foul shots, then added a free throw after a Jardine turnover.

The Orange then turned the ball over on consecutive possessions, leading to Smith's teardrop one-handed shot in the paint, boosting the Buckeyes to a 62-55 lead with 3:15 left.

Syracuse finally got it back to a one-possession game at 70-67 on a three- point play from Waiters with 36.8 seconds left, but Sullinger made 1-of-2 foul shots and then Triche missed a jumper at the other end.

Smith, William Buford and Thomas each made two free throws down the stretch.

"Everybody kind of pulled together, and it's something we've been preaching with this basketball team, and came down the second half to guys making big plays," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said.

Ohio State raced to a 9-2 lead before Syracuse netted the next six.

Sullinger, who had just four points in the first half, got two fouls in the first 6:18 of the game. The Buckeyes weathered the storm in the tightly- contested first half with the game even at 29 at the break.

The Orange were able to clear a huge hurdle in the tournament, advancing without the services of sophomore Fab Melo, who was ruled ineligible by the NCAA on the eve of the tournament due to his academics. But without the Big East Defensive Player of the Year, Syracuse was unable to make it to the school's fifth Final Four.

"I just don't think we had good movement, as good as we've had this year, in that 10, 12 minutes at the end of the first half," Orange coach Jim Boeheim said. "Ohio State is a very good defensive team with or without Sulli. They might be better without him because you can get some pick-and-roll stuff when he's in there because he doesn't step up."

Game Notes

Thomas scored 14 and Buford 13 with each having nine rebounds...The Orange held a 28-20 scoring advantage in the paint...Keita had 10 rebounds.