The big man finally looked like a freshman, getting mired in foul trouble as the top-seeded Buckeyes fell behind by 20 points before halftime. But senior Ron Lewis and fellow freshman Mike Conley bailed out Oden and lifted Ohio State past Tennessee, 85-84 Thursday night in the semifinals of the NCAA South Regional.
Lewis scored 25 points, and Conley had nine of his 17 from the foul line, including the winner with 6.5 seconds left.
But Conley missed a second shot, giving Tennessee one last chance. Ramar Smith grabbed the rebound and went all the way to the rim with Conley defending him. They went up together and time expired with his ball in the air.
Then it was Oden to the rescue, swatting the ball into the Volunteers' cheerleaders and dropping back to earth himself with his biggest smile of the night, while Smith planted himself facedown in front of the Tennessee bench.
The Buckeyes (33-3) won their 20th straight game, keeping alive their longest run in the tournament since reaching the Final Four in 1999. They can get there again with a victory Saturday against Memphis.
For the Volunteers (24-11), this was a second straight heartbreaking loss to one of the nation's top teams. The first was a 68-66 defeat in Columbus, Ohio, in mid-January when Oden had the first breakout game of his career.
The 7-foot, 270-pound man-child scored only nine points, matching his lowest in 15 games, and set a season-low with three rebounds. He never fouled out, though, needing quick substitutions in the final few minutes to avoid getting disqualified.
Memphis 65, Texas A&M 64
Antonio Anderson made two free throws with 3.1 seconds left to help second-seeded Memphis beat third-seeded Texas A&M.
Anderson came in shooting 64 percent from the free throw line and was 1-for-4 when he went to the line after being fouled at the end of a wild sequence in which the Tigers missed three quick shots.
The Tigers have been one of the nation's worst free throw-shooting teams all season. They were so bad from the line that coach John Calipari quit having them shoot in postseason practice and told his players to visualize making them instead.
Memphis (33-3) stretched its winning streak to 25 games and advanced to a regional final for the second straight year.
Texas A&M (27-7), three seasons removed from an 0-16 record in the Big 12, had one final chance, but Dominique Kirk's shot from just inside half-court was woefully short.
Kirk took the final shot instead of "Captain Clutch," senior Acie Law, who had 13 points but was 6-of-17 from the field in his final game for the Aggies.
Kansas 61, Southern Illinois 58
Brandon Rush scored 12 points without missing a shot, and top-seeded Kansas slipped past Southern Illinois to set up a regional final against UCLA.
Darrell Arthur and Russell Robinson scored nine points apiece to help the Jayhawks (27-4) barely avoid yet another Saluki surprise and another disappointing exit from the tournament. Kansas won its 14th straight game by nursing a small lead through the final minutes against a defense that made the Jayhawks work hard for every basket.
When Tony Young missed a desperate 3-point attempt from half-court at the buzzer, Kansas also dodged its second straight tournament loss at the hands of the Missouri Valley Conference. Bradley beat the Jayhawks last season.
Jamaal Tatum scored 19 points in his final college game for the fourth-seeded Salukis (29-7), who couldn't get the break they needed to reach the round of eight for the first time in school history with just their second loss in 17 games.
UCLA 64, Pittsburgh 55
Arron Afflalo made all 10 of his free throws and UCLA shot 23-for-26 from the line to knock off Pittsburgh.
The game between coaching buddies Ben Howland of the Bruins and Jamie Dixon of the Panthers was played in the style they employed in their years together at Northern Arizona and Pitt. Nearly every shot being contested and neither team able to generate any kind of offensive flow as neither team cracked 43 percent shooting from the field.
But the second-seeded Bruins (29-5) were able to win at the line, scoring 12 of their final 18 points on foul shots.
Third-seeded Pitt (29-8) cut a 12-point lead down to five when Levance Fields hit a pair of 3s and Ronald Ramon added another in an 88-second span, but Michael Roll's baseline jumper with 51.5 seconds left put the Bruins up 58-51.
Afflalo finished with 17 points despite going 3-for-11 from the floor in another poor shooting night. Josh Shipp added 16 and Darren Collison had 12 as the Bruins advanced to regional finals in consecutive years for the first time since 1979-80.
Ramon scored 12 points for Pitt.