Buckeyes ride Thomas, Sullinger into Elite Eight

Three Big Ten teams entered Thursday night with hopes of staying alive in the NCAA Tournament but only one of them survived as Ohio State moved on to the Elite Eight while Michigan State and Wisconsin head home.We’ve got full box scores for all three games on our scoreboard page, and I’ll get ready for Friday night’s game between Indiana and Kentucky, too.

But right now head inside this post for my look at all three Thursday night games, including what’s next for each of these three Big Ten teams. It’s never easy to be knocked out of the tourney, but only one team gets to end their season with a win.

No. 1 Syracuse 64, No. 4 Wisconsin 63
Key player: Jordan Taylor. The senior went down swinging, scoring 17 points on 6-of-15 shooting (5-of-9 from 3-point land). Taylor also had six assists and four rebounds with a steal and block while playing all 40 minutes, as Wisconsin used torrid 3-point shooting (14-of-27, 51.9 percent) to almost pull the upset vs. an Orange squad that marches on despite having big man Fab Melo suspended just prior to the start of the tourney.

Key number: 7, points for Ryan Evans. He needed to have a big game inside. Instead, Syracuse clobbered Wisconsin in the paint en route to shooting 55.1 percent (27-of-49).

What’s next for Wisconsin? The season finished with a pang of “what might have been.” The Badgers could have won this game, letting a late lead slip away. Then, trailing Syracuse by just one point with 15 seconds left, Jordan Taylor took an ill-advised way-out 3-pointer with three seconds. Air ball. Josh Gasser grabbed the rebound and tossed up a desperation turnaround jumper that missed as time expired. Wisconsin should have gotten a better shot. How about Taylor on a drive? Anything was better than what happened. The Badgers, who finished 26-10, have to be proud of reaching the Sweet 16 after opening Big Ten play 103. Next season, Wisconsin will miss point man Jordan Taylor. Fellow guard Rob Wilson also is gone. But Bo Ryan’s team will welcome back lots of talent in 2012-13 to make a run at the Big Ten crown. Players like Jared Berggren; Ryan Evans; Josh Gasser; Ben Brust; Mike Bruesewitz; Frank Kaminsky will be back. And don’t forget: Five-star recruit Sam Dekker—a 6-8 forward–will arrive as one of the most decorated recruits in school annals. This will be a good team.

No. 4 Louisville 57, No. 1 Michigan State 44
Key player: Draymond Green. He notched another double-double with 13 points and 16 rebounds. But the senior hit just 5-of-16 shots and was just 1-of-7 from 3-point land for a Spartan squad that connected on only 14-of-49 shots (28.6 percent—the worst ever for MSU in the Big Dance) and 5-of-21 from 3-point range (23.8 percent).

Key number: 4, bench points for Michigan State. All came from Derrick Nix. Points were hard to come by on this night for the Spartans, who had just 18 points at halftime. Keith Appling struggled, hitting 1-of-6 shots with six points four assists and four turnovers for a MSU team that turned it over 15 times to nine by Louisville. Spartan big men Nix and Adreian Payne combined for eight points and nine boards as Louisville outscored MSU in the paint, 20-14, in what were the fewest points the Spartans ever have scored in an NCAA game.

What’s next for Michigan State? It wasn’t supposed to end like this for the No. 1 seeded Spartans, which finished 29-8 as Big Ten tri-champs. MSU loses Draymond Green, the Big Ten Player of the Year and heart and soul of the team. Guards Austin Thornton and Brandon Wood also are gone, but each was just a role player. Several key players will be back for Tom Izzo’s crew, including many with star potential. The top returnees will be Keith Appling; Branden Dawson; Derrick Nix; Adreian Payne; Travis Trice. Russell Byrd and Alex Gauna will continue to develop, and the Spartans will welcome the top player from Indiana and one of the best in the nation in guard Gary Harris, the headliner of a strong four-man class. This team will be in the Big Ten title hunt—again.

No. 1 Ohio State 81, No. 6 Cincinnati 66
Key player: Deshaun Thomas led the Buckeyes with 26 points and had seven boards, but Jared Sullinger was the man. He tallied 23 points and harnessed 11 rebounds with three blocks. The sophomore hit 7-of-13 shots and was 9-of-10 from the free-throw line for an Ohio State squad that played just six eight players, but six ate up most of the minutes.

Key number: 27, free throws shot by Ohio State. The Buckeyes hit 19 (70.4 percent). Conversely, Cincinnati was just 5-of-8 from the charity stripe. The Buckeyes also had a decided edge from the 3-point line, hitting 8-of-17 (47.1 percent) compared to the Bearcats’ 9-of-23 (39.1 percent). Ohio State—which forced 18 turnovers–actually blew a 12-point halftime lead and saw Cincinnati take a four-point lead before taking over down the stretch.

What’s next for Ohio State? The win over Cincinnati advances the Buckeyes to the Elite Eight for the first time since Ohio State and Greg Oden marched to the national championship game in 2007, where the Buckeyes lost to Florida. The last two years ended in Sweet 16 losses to Kentucky and Tennessee, respectively. In 2009, the Buckeyes lost in the first round to Siena. Now comes a date with No. 1 Syracuse in the East Regional Final for the Big Ten’s tri-champs who are playing as well as anyone in the tourney. How will the Orange handle Jared Sullinger without Fab Melo?

BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is on Twitter and Facebook, and all of his work is at www.btn.com/tomdienhart. Send questions to his weekly mailbag, subscribe to his RSS feed, and check out his video Q&A.

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B more Mom on 3/23/2012 @ 9:36am EDT Said:

Go Buckeyes!!! Yes my Baby Buckeye (former student athlete) and I were rooting last night!!!! DEUCES Cincy and one to the next one…….

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