The Ohio State Buckeyes face a stiff test seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs steam into the third round coming off an inspired performance, seeking to knock off the Buckeyes in an afternoon tussle at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
Ohio State took care of business in its second-round game Thursday, dispatching No. 15 seed Loyola-Maryland by way of a 78-59 victory. The Buckeyes (28-7) led by as many as 20 in the second half with sophomore Deshaun Thomas' career-high 31 points leading the way. Thomas was 13-of-22 shooting and grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds as well. Senior William Buford came up with 17 points while sophomore Jared Sullinger totaled 12 points and 11 boards. OSU dominated the glass with a 49-24 rebounding advantage while holding a 38-24 scoring edge in the paint. The defense held Loyola to 35.2 percent shooting from the field with the Buckeyes countering with a 44.8 shooting percentage. The victory was OSU's third consecutive opening-round victory, improving its overall tourney ledger to 42-22. This is Ohio State's 24th appearance in this event having lost to Kentucky in the regional semifinals as the East Region's No. 1 seed last year. The Buckeyes have made nine trips to the Final Four and reached the championship game four times, winning their lone national championship in 1960. The program most recently played for the championship in 2007, losing out to Florida.
Gonzaga plowed through No. 9 seed West Virginia Thursday with a dominating 77-54 victory. The Zags led by 18 at the half and shot 63.6 percent from the field in the second half for the runaway win. It was a balanced effort for the Bulldogs with four players finishing in double figures led by freshman Gary Bell Jr. and senior Robert Sacre's matching 14-point efforts. Kevin Pangos added 13 points and Elias Harris netted 10 as Gonzaga (26-6) finished shooting 56.0 percent from the floor overall. The defense was equally impressive, holding West Virginia to a meager 32.7 percent shooting. The victory saw Gonzaga's tournament record move to 17-14 in this its 15th overall appearance and 14th straight at the Big Dance. Gonzaga upended St. Johns as an 11-seed in last year's tournament before falling to BYU in the third round. The Zags have advanced as far as the Elite Eight once back in 1999 with a memorable run as the 10th seed, knocking off higher seeds Minnesota, Stanford and Florida before succumbing to eventual national champs UConn in the Regional Final. The Bulldogs have gone on to make four appearances in the Sweet 16 since then, the most recent in 2009, and have won at least one game in 11 of its trips to the NCAAs.
This will be the first-ever meeting between the Buckeyes and Bulldogs on the hardwood.
The Buckeyes certainly made their presence felt inside the Big Ten this year, and stamped their authority with the league's top-ranked scoring margin at plus-15.8. Ohio State stands second in the conference in both scoring with 74.9 points per game and defense (59.1 ppg) -- a mark that also stands in the top-15 nationally. The Buckeyes hold the nation's 18th-ranked shooting percentage at 48.2 percent and force a stingy 40.5 shooting percentage from opponents -- good for third in the conference. OSU also has the league's second-best rebounding margin at plus-8.0 (37.3-29.3) behind only Michigan State, but also rank dead last in the conference with a mere 170 three- pointers. Sullinger is at the heart of the Buckeyes' success, averaging 17.4 ppg, 9.3 rebounds and connecting on 53.0 percent of his field goals. Sullinger's scoring and rebounding totals place him third and second, respectively, in the Big Ten while Thomas and Buford give the club three of the league's top-12 scorers. Thomas contributes in a number of ways, netting 15.8 ppg on 53.4 percent shooting with 5.2 rpg and 43 three-pointers on 34.7 percent shooting. Buford puts up 14.8 ppg and leads the team with 55 triples on 35.7 percent shooting. Buford also kicks in 4.8 boards and 2.8 assists while sophomore Aaron Craft ranks fourth in the conference with his 4.5 assists per game and adds 8.6 ppg to the mix on a crisp 50.5 percent shooting.
The Bulldogs strike a successful balance on offense despite lacking a true go- to scorer. The Zags have a freshman leading the team in scoring as Pangos was named WCC Newcomer of the Year for averaging 13.8 points per game and a team- best 3.4 assists. Even more impressive is Pangos' 77 three-pointers -- second- best in the West Coast Conference -- falling at a crisp 40.7-percent accuracy. The junior Harris is a crucial part of the Zags' success, posting 13.0 ppg on 50.5 percent shooting with 8.6 rebounds -- third-most in the WCC. Sacre shoots 51.1 percent from the field and averages 11.8 ppg, 6.3 boards and 1.4 blocks as the WCC Defensive Player of the Year. Bell Jr. gives the Zags four double- figure scoring options, netting 10.1 ppg while contributing 48 threes on a league-leading 47.1 percent shooting. The Bulldogs lead the WCC in three-point shooting percentage at 38.1 percent, ranking just outside the top-30 nationally. Sam Dower paces the squad in field-goal percentage (54.3 percent) and adds 8.3 ppg to the mix. Overall, Gonzaga puts up a solid 74.1 ppg and shoots 47.6 percent from the floor -- standing just outside the top-20 nationally. However, the Bulldogs stand out the most on defense, holding teams to 62.9 ppg and 41.1 percent shooting. The Zags also own the second-best rebounding margin in the WCC at plus-6.3 (36.9-30.6).