Ohio State Upset in Sweet 16 for Second Straight Year

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For the second straight year, the Buckeyes advanced to the Sweet 16, only to be upset by an SEC team. Last year it was Tennessee who knocked them out, this year it was Kentucky, beating the Buckeyes 62-60.

By: Justin Mertes-Mistretta

This was the first game all season that Ohio State was matched in athleticism and size.  The Wildcats were able to take advantage of the Buckeyes’ vulnerabilities, which were only exposed for limited periods of time prior to this game.

The difference in the game was Kentucky big man John Harrellson, who finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds. He was the one of the few defenders who could match Sullinger’s strength, and for the first half it was Harrellson who got the better of the matchup.

“I think Harrellson is probably the most underrated player in college basketball,” coach Thad Matta said. “He’s a tremendous player and knows his role and does it well.”

Harrellson made his presence felt early on, blocking Sullinger, grabbing two rebounds and scoring the Wildcats first two field goals, including an emphatic dunk. The domination continued throughout the half and for the first time all year, Sullinger looked to have met his match.

The Wildcats made a choice heading into the game to play straight up on Sullinger instead of doubling down on him, which would leave Ohio State’s deadly outside shooters wide open.

This strategy worked better than the Wildcats could have expected. Not only were the outside shooters of Ohio State being contained, but Sullinger was being outscored by Kentucky’s big man. With both teams tied at the end of the first half, Harrellson had 12 points to Sullinger’s 10, and both had seven rebounds. Barkley said it best at halftime, saying if Sullinger continues to get single coverage and is outscored by Harrellson, the Buckeyes were going to be in for a long night.

Fortunately for the Buckeyes, the Wildcats weren’t doing much outside of Harrellson. Kentucky entered the second half with five players with two or more fouls and Harrellson had half the teams’ made field goals.

The Buckeyes started the second half hitting two straight three point field goals, which matched their entire first half total. It was looking as though Ohio State would get something started behind the arc, but it never came to fruition as it would only go on to hit two more the entire game. Ohio State finished the game 6-for-16 from long range, which is fairly average for this sharp-shooting team.

“Some of the shots we missed are shots we have been making all year,” Diebler said.

With a little more than five minutes to go, Brandon Knight hit a three pointer to give the Wildcats a 56-53 lead. Audiences across America were just waiting for another undisciplined John Calipari team to choke down the stretch. However, this Kentucky team proved all season long it does not fit the mold of Coach Cal’s previous teams.

“That’s the best team we played this year,” Matta said.

While the Wildcats are young, starting three freshman and only having one senior on the roster, it may be one of Cal’s most mature teams in recent memory. This is a team that does two things better than any other team he’s coached: take care of the ball (ninth in the nation in turnover percentage) and hit free throws down the stretch (71.7 percent as a team).

After a DeAndre Liggins three pointer, the Wildcats took a 60-57 lead with 36 seconds to go in the game. The Buckeyes answered back with a Jon Diebler three, his fourth of the night, to tie the game.Brandon knight game-winner

With nine seconds left, Calipari decided not to call a timeout, having faith in his young, but mature team’s ability to handle the final seconds. The decision proved to be the right one as Brandon Knight pulled up from just outside the elbow to hit the game-winning two-point jumper.

“I don’t ever call a time-out, that’s why we practice,” Calipari said.

“I get a lot of confidence from that just knowing that Coach Cal has a lot of faith in me to put me in a position like that to make the right play,” Knight said.

Say what you want about Calipari’s personality and ethics as a recruiter, but this man is one heck of a coach. He consistently brings a new crop of freshman deep into the tournament year after year.

“He [Calipari] is obviously getting it done,” Matta said. “Look at his track record of what he accomplished over his coaching career.”

While the win was an exclamation mark for this overlooked Wildcat squad, it was yet another disappointing finish for Matta’s Buckeyes.

“It’s hard,” Matta said. “I mean, I have to be honest with you, as I told them, I don’t know what to say after the game.”

With all the talk about the Big East and Big Ten being the best conferences heading into the tournament, it is the SEC that gets the last laugh. The SEC is the only conference with two teams left, while the Big Ten has none.

How far do you think Kentucky can go? Is an all-SEC championship game possible? Let me know by commenting below.

Justin Mertes-Mistretta is a senior writer for TheSportsBank.net. Follow him on Twitter at MertesMist_tsb or read his blog here.

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