PITTSBURGH - The Buckeyes have their dancing shoes on. Now, it's on to some unfinished business in Boston.
"The rest of our guys can come back next year. I can't," was William Buford's answer regarding OSU's quest to win a national championship in 2012.
True enough. Buford's the lone senior on a Buckeye roster filled with underclass players forced to perform like savvy veterans here Saturday where OSU survived a second round scare against Gonzaga.
Ohio State's slick shooting guard from Toledo had taken a moment to address his teammates prior to Saturday's matchup. "I just told them we needed to play together. That was the key for us moving on," he stated.
One of four Bucks in double figures, Buford was only a so-so 4-of-13 from the perimeter. But backcourt mate Aaron Craft along with Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas more than compensated.
"Probably as well as we've played as a team in a while. And we had to have that kind of effort," Buford added. "When Jared went to the bench with two fouls, other guys had to step up and they did."
Sullinger took a seat midway through the first half with OSU down four. "At that point, I took off my jersey, picked up a pom-pom and became a cheerleader," he described. "I know I'm no help sitting there. Just don't let it get you down."
Thomas and Craft got the message, teaming for 22 points as the Buckeyes roared back from a 27-20 deficit to forge a 39-37 halftime lead.
The issue remained in doubt with four minutes to play after Gonzaga's Elias Harris rifled home a game-tying baseline trifecta for a lock-up at 61. OSU, though, netted the next seven points and the Zags had finally been silenced.
Harris, the Bulldogs' 6-7 junior out of Germany faced reporters in a bitter postgame mode. "We out-rebounded them and played them way tougher than they played us," he concluded. "At the end of the day, we were more physical. The difference? We had open looks and didn't knock them down."
OSU did well enough, however, to impress Gonzaga coach Mark Few. "Wouldn't surprise me if Ohio State's (up there) cutting down the nets at New Orleans," the Bulldogs' boss speculated.
The Buckeyes' next step comes Thursday in Beantown - the first regional game of which Sullinger feels will result in a better outcome that one year ago at Newark.
"We've got this little bump in the road called the Sweet 16," Sullinger smiled. "We're not going to accept anything less than two wins (there)."
OSU's Thad Matta was asked to assess his club's opening weekend performance. "At this point, we get an 'A' because we're moving on to Boston," Matta insisted. "What is hard right now at this juncture for our guys is periods of preparation work. We haven't had a ton of time to sit down and say, 'Hey, here's the things we've got to do better. I expect we'll go home now and have, hopefully, our best practices of the season. I don't know what else you'd expect from a group of guys who collectively have their eyes on the prize."
Buford, for one, is buying into his coach's theory. "We're gonna go hard every day," he promised. "One bad game and it can be all over. We found that out that year. There's only one feeling I want to experience at the end of this season."
Four more victories are required for Buford and the Buckeyes to make that happen.
CRAFT recorded his first career double-double with 17 points and a season-high 10 assists. He also made three steals Saturday for a season total of 87, tying an Ohio State season record with Mike Conley, Jr. (2007).
THIS will be Ohio State's third consecutive trip to the Sweet 16 and 14th overall. The Buckeyes own an all-time 43-22 record in NCAA Tournament play....Gonzaga finished this season 0-3 vs. Big Ten competition. Previously, the Zags fell to Illinois (75-82) and Michigan State (67-74).
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