BOSTON – When Cincinnati got careless with the ball, it threw away its chance to advance to the NCAA East regional final.
The team that began the night with 10.7 turnovers per game, 15th fewest in the nation, committed 18 in its 81-66 loss to Ohio State on Thursday. And seven of those came after the Bearcats had turned a 37-25 halftime deficit into a 52-48 lead with 11:34 to go.
"We got down early, made a tremendous comeback," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "At the end of the day, we didn't take care of the basketball. ... With 18 turnovers, we really just gave ourselves no chance."
Aaron Craft led the Buckeyes with six steals, three of them in a span of 4 1-2 minutes after Cincinnati had taken that four-point lead.
"They had 20 points in nine minutes and were shooting 80 percent, and some of that goes to them," Craft said. "But we didn't play defense like we did in the first half. We did a great job of sticking together and getting stops."
Too often, the Bearcats stopped themselves.
"We were overdribbling the ball," said Cashmere Wright, who led them with 18 points but had three turnovers.
Jared Sullinger scored 23 points with 11 rebounds and Ohio State turned back Cincinnati's last charge with a 17-1 run to advance to the NCAA regional finals for the first time since 2007.
"We've got two types of basketball teams: We've got the cool guys and then the blue-collar guys," Sullinger explained. "I thought to start the second half we got into the cool-guy mode and we kind of let our guard down. ... I mean, we just came out and decided to be cool guys, and they came out and they stung us, and then we got ourselves back into another basketball game."
Deshaun Thomas scored 26 points for the second-seeded Buckeyes (30-7), who will play Syracuse at the TD Garden on Saturday. Craft added 11 points — all in the second half — with five assists, taking charge during the second-half run that turned a four-point deficit into a double-digit lead.
Sean Kilpatrick had 15 for the No. 6 seeded Bearcats, who were attempting to match Big East rival Syracuse by beating a Big Ten opponent to advance to the East Regional finals. The top-seeded Orange advanced earlier Thursday by beating fourth-seeded Wisconsin 64-63.
Wearing fluorescent orange shoelaces and piping on their jerseys, Cincinnati (26-11) fell behind by 12 at the half before going on a 19-4 run early in the second. The Bearcats led 52-48 with 11:34 to play when Buckeyes coach Thad Matta called a timeout and ripped into his team.
In the first half, Kilpatrick said, the Buckeyes "were getting a lot of second chance points on rebounds. When the second half came, we were crashing the boards a lot more."
Ohio State allowed just one free throw over the next 5½ minutes.
That effectively ended the season for Cincinnati, which fought its way back into prominence after a Dec. 10 brawl with crosstown rival Xavier.
The Musketeers, who were unbeaten and No. 8 in the nation at the time, lost their top three scorers and then five of their next six games. But Cincinnati, which fell to 5-3 with the 23-point loss at Xavier, won 10 of its next 11 games despite using a four-guard offense made necessary by the six-game suspensions of Yancy Gates and center Cheikh Mbodj.
The Bearcats reached the final of the Big East tournament and beat Texas and Florida State in the NCAAs to reach the regional semifinals for the first time since 2001.
"We've come a long way. I take a lot of pride in that. Nothing's been given to us," Cronin said. "In the Big East, rebuilding a program has been a tough chore the last 10 years."
The Buckeyes led Cincinnati by five when Thomas hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Ohio State scored 10 of the last 13 points in the half to open a 37-25 lead. But Cincinnati opened the second half with a run of its own, tying it 41-all on JaQuon Parker's baby hook shot in the lane.
The Bearcats led 52-48 on Gates' three-point play with 11:34 left. But Ohio State scored 17 of the next 18 points to put it away.