No. 2 seed Ohio State’s magical late-season run came to an end with a miserable 70-66 loss to ninth-seeded Wichita State in the NCAA West Region championship game Saturday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
A poor shooting night was the culprit. OSU fell behind by as many as 20 in the second half, before getting the lead down to three with just under three minutes left. But they could not pull off the comeback win.
“We had played so well for an extended period of time,” said OSU coach Thad Matta, whose team suffered its first loss after winning 11 in a row. “We weren’t very good to start this game. Give Wichita State credit. They have a tremendous, unbelievable basketball team. They’re playing as well as any team we played this year.
“As I told our guys, you get so close to going to your second straight Final Four. Everybody remembers the last game. I’m not going to. I’m going to remember the season because I am very proud of what these guys accomplished this year.”
The Buckeyes (29-8) were denied a return trip to the Final Four, set for next weekend in Atlanta.
“This hurts,”said OSU junior wing Deshaun Thomas, who led the Buckeyes with 23 points. “We tried to repeat getting to the Final Four, but, man we had a heck of a season. We came together as a team. We had a great season, won the Big Ten tournament. But today was a tough loss.”
Malcolm Armstead led Wichita State (30-8) with 14 points and seven rebounds. Fred VanVleet and Cleanthony Early each had 12 points. The Shockers become the latest mid-major to reach the Final Four. They are the first team from the Missouri Valley Conference to do it since Larry Bird’s Indiana State team in 1979.
“Ohio State had a marvelous team and was on a great run,” said WSU coach Gregg Marshall. “They made a huge push in the middle of the second half and cut our 20-point lead down to just a few points. That takes courage and toughness.
“I didn’t know if we could score against them, but these guys found a way and made the plays when they had to down the stretch to give us a chance to go to Atlanta and compete for a national championship.”
Ohio State could not survive a miserable shooting performance as the Shockers locked them up. OSU was a dismal 31.1 percent from the floor (19 of 61) and hit just 20 percent of its threes (5 of 25).
Deshaun Thomas led OSU with 23 points and five rebounds. He was 8 of 20 from the floor and 0 for 6 on threes. LaQuinton Ross had 19 points and five rebounds. Shannon Scott had six points and seven rebounds.
It was a tough game for Aaron Craft, who ended up 2 of 12 from the floor to finish with nine points and seven rebounds.
“We’ve been playing pretty well together,” Craft said. “We found a way to win a couple of games we probably shouldn’t have won in the past couple of games. It seems like everything caught up to us. We didn’t come out with the same intensity and the same fire today and they did. It hurts.”
Absolutely nothing went Ohio State’s way in the first half as the Buckeyes trailed by 13 at 35-22 at the break. OSU was 8 of 33 (24.2 percent) from the floor, including 2 of 10 on threes. Thomas led OSU with nine points, but was 4 of 13 from the floor and 0 of 5 on threes.
Oh, and OSU was murdered on the boards 27-17 with Wichita earning six second-chance points.
“We weren’t able in the first half to draw the line and get the stops and the bucket we needed,” Matta said. “We shot 24 percent. You’re not going to win in the Elite Eight shooting 24 percent in the first half.”
Thomas added, “Today just wasn’t our night. Nothing was falling. In the huddle, we tried to keep our spirits up. We were trying to believe in ourselves. Coach said they were going to fall. We had some great looks but they just weren’t falling.”
The Buckeyes missed their first seven shots before Lenzelle Smith Jr. splashed a three. Craft hit a three to cut Wichita’s lead to 7-6 with 15:09 left in the half. Thomas completed a three-point play for a 9-7 lead.
But Wichita answered with Early and Armstead hitting back-to-back threes for a 13-9 lead with 12:23 left in the half. OSU rallied and tied it on a rebound basket by Shannon Scott to make it 13-13.
Wichita then went on a 13-2 run, capped by threes from Tekele Cotton and Demetric Williams to make it 25-15 with 6:29 left. Matta called a timeout to try and stem the tide, but the misses just kept coming.
And suddenly the Shockers were getting every bounce, too. WSU’s Ehimen Orukpe grabbed an offensive rebound that went through an OSU player’s hands and jammed it. Then, after OSU’s Amir Williams had blocked a shot, Armstead grabbed the carom and put it back in for a 29-18 lead with 2:13 left.
Thomas hit a driving one-hander to cut it to 31-20. But Craft was whistled for his second foul for closely guarding WSU’s Fred VanVleet. His two free throws made it 33-20. OSU’s LaQuinton Ross was fouled on a three-pointer with three seconds left. He made 2 of 3 to get it down to 11 at 33-22.
But on the missed third free throw, OSU’s Evan Ravenel was whistled for a phantom foul. The replay showed Ravenel never touched anybody as he went for the ball. WSU’s Cotton capped the scoring with two free throws to make it 35-22.
Things went from bad to worse as Wichita State scored on eight straight possessions early in the second half. Armstead went to work here with a three and two driving layups in traffic. The lead went to 17 on his three and on to 20 after Ron Baker made three free throws to make it 51-31 with 12:41 left.
Ross dialed up a three for OSU, but at the other end Armstead drove and kicked to Van Villet. He bobbled the pass but recovered and somehow hit a three from the left corner to make it 56-36 with 11:28 left.
Ohio State made a charge (finally). Ross drove for a layup, was fouled and made the free throw. Craft was then fouled and hit a pair of free throws. Armstead then drove and missed. Ross cleared the rebound and went coast-to-coast on a drive. He was mugged on his way to the hoop. His two free throws cut the Wichita lead to 56-43 with 9:08 left.
Armstead then missed a three. OSU worked it inside to Thomas, who drew a foul. His two free throws cut it to 11 at 56-45 with 7:41 left.
The run ended, though, as Wichita threw over the press to Cotton, who was fouled on a layup attempt by Thomas. It was Thomas’ fourth foul. Cotton made 1 of 2 free throws. Then after a Ross turnover, Van Villet drove for a layup and was fouled. His free throw made it 60-45 with 7:03 left.
Craft made 1 of 2 free throws and Thomas drove for a layup to cut it to 60-48 with 6:05 left. Then after a Van Villet miss, Ross missed a three for OSU. But Thomas grabbed the rebound and scored to cut it to 10 at 60-50 with 4:33 left.
Wichita State then had a turnover on an inbounds play. Ross tried another three, but missed. OSU’s Shannon Scott rebounded and missed, but Thomas soared in to score it and cut the lead to eight at 60-52 with 4:07 left. WSU then had another turnover on an inbounds play. But Thomas missed and Smith fouled on the rebound.
Baker hit two free throws for Wichita. But Thomas fed Ross for a three on the left wing. Then, Ross poked the ball away from WSU’s Early and drew a foul. His two free throws cut it to five at 62-57 with 3:13 left.
WSU’s VanVleet then was whistled for an offensive foul. Ross missed a three, but Scott rebounded and was fouled. Scott’s two free throws cut it to three at 62-59 with 2:49 left in the game.
WSU’s Cotton then hit a huge three from the left wing. Thomas answered with a drive for a layup, leaving WSU up 65-61 with 2:09 left.
VanVleet missed a three, but Cotton grabbed the offensive board. Finally, Van Villet drove the lane and his short shot rolled around the rim and fell in for a 67-61 lead with 59 seconds left.
Craft then missed a three and WSU’s Baker was fouled on the rebound. His two free throws made it 69-61 with 51.3 seconds left. Scott had a rebound basket for OSU to make it 69-63 with 40.9 seconds left.
Baker missed a layup, but OSU had misses by Ross and Ravenel at the other end. Cotton was fouled and made 1 of 2 for a 70-63 lead with 11.6 seconds left. Craft then hit a three to cut it to four at 70-66 with 6.8 seconds left.
“I’m proud of the way our guys came back and dug down,” Matta said. “We put ourselves in a position to have a chance to win the game.”
* Wichita State’s Armstead was named as the West Region most outstanding player. He was joined on the all-regional team by his teammate Hall as well as OSU’s Ross and Thomas and Arizona’s Mark Lyons.
* OSU is now 11-4 all-time in games to reach the NCAA Final Four.
* This is Ohio State 29th NCAA appearance. The Buckeyes are 54-28 all-time. Wichita State improved to 11-10 all-time in the NCAA. Wichita will head to its second Final Four and first one since 1965.
* Ohio State is now 3-2 all-time against Wichita State. The teams met in 1960-63 in a pair of home-and-home series. OSU won in Wichita in 1960 (93-82), won at home in Columbus in 1961 (85-62), lost at Wichita in 1962 (71-54) and won at home in 1963 (78-60).
* The Buckeyes had won 11 straight games dating to a Feb. 17 loss at Wisconsin.
* This is OSU’s seventh NCAA trip in nine seasons under Matta. Under Matta, OSU is 17-7 in NCAA Tournament games. Matta’s overall record as a college coach in the NCAA is 23-11.
* After 23 wins, this was OSU’s first loss to an unranked team. Wichita appeared in the top 25 several times during the season, topping out at No. 15 when the Shockers were 19-2 on Jan. 28. But Wichita was not ranked in the final AP poll.
This is OSU’s first loss to an unranked team since a loss at Illinois last season on Jan. 10, 2012. OSU had won its last 32 games against unranked opponents.
* Wichita State will play the winner of Sunday’s NCAA Midwest Region title game between No. 1 seed Louisville (32-5) and No. 2 seed Duke (30-5). That game is set for 5 p.m. Sunday. The national semifinal will be next Saturday in Atlanta.
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