BOSTON (AP) — Jared Sullinger recovered from first-half foul trouble to score 19 points and grab seven rebounds, helping Ohio State beat Syracuse 77-70 on Saturday to advance to the Final Four.
It will be the Buckeyes’ first trip to the NCAA semifinals since 2007.
Deshaun Thomas scored 14 with nine rebounds for No. 2 seed Ohio State (31-7), which led by eight points with 59 seconds to play and held on after the Orange cut it to three. The Buckeyes made 13 of 14 free throws in the final 68 seconds.
Brandon Triche scored 15 points and Baye Keita had 10 rebounds for top-seeded Syracuse (34-3). The Orange were hoping for a return trip to New Orleans, where they won their only national championship in 2003.
In a tightly officiated game that left Sullinger on the bench in foul trouble for most of the first half and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim not-quite muzzled after picking up a technical foul, it came down to free throws. Ohio State went 31 for 42 from the line in the game despite playing against Syracuse’s usual 2-3 zone.
The Orange went to the line 25 times, making 20 foul shots.
The frequent whistles left both teams struggling to get into a groove in the first half — there were only four baskets in the last 9:30 of the first. That seemed to be good news for Ohio State, which managed to stay with the No. 1 seed despite getting only 6 minutes from Sullinger, the star of the Buckeyes’ East Regional semifinal win over Cincinnati.
Syracuse was already without 7-footer Fab Melo, who missed the tournament with academic issues, and replacement Rakeem Christmas picked up two quick fouls early in the second half to leave him with four.
Ohio State opened a 46-36 lead with under 14 minutes to play. Syracuse scored eight of the next nine points to make it a one-point game, but the Orange could never get back in the lead.
They trailed by eight with 59 seconds left and cut it to three, but they needed the Buckeyes to miss free throws, and that didn’t happen.
The loss ended a tumultuous season for Syracuse that began with accusations by two former ball boys that they were sexually abused in the 1980s by Bernie Fine, a longtime Syracuse assistant coach. Boeheim vigorously defended him, but later walked back his support in the face of new information. Fine, who was fired Nov. 27, has not been charged and has denied any wrongdoing.
The school also revealed this month that it had self-reported possible violations of its internal drug policy by members of previous teams; the NCAA is investigating.
But the biggest hit might have been the loss of Melo, their leading rebounder who also averaged 5.8 points per game.
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