Kentucky Wildcats Defeat Ohio State Buckeyes 62-60
NEWARK, N.J. -- Brandon Knight did it again.
Knight knocked down a jumper with 5 seconds remaining as the fourth-seeded Wildcats stunned top-seeded Ohio State 62-60 on Friday in the East regional semifinals.
Senior center Josh Harrellson held his own against Ohio State super freshman Jared Sullinger, scoring 17 points and grabbing 10 rebounds as the Wildcats (28-8) advanced to play North Carolina on Sunday for a trip to the Final Four.
Knight, who knocked down a game-winner in Kentucky's second-round win over Princeton, shrugged off another sluggish performance to drill the biggest shot of his career.
Kentucky coach John Calipari opted not to call timeout after Ohio State's John Diebler hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 60 with 21 seconds remaining, and Knight delivered a silky 15-foot jumper.
Ohio State rushed down the floor, but William Buford's 3-pointer clanked off the rim and the rebound was tapped out of harm's way.
The Wildcats, who struggled to win close games earlier in the season, rushed onto the floor as the buzzer sounded. DeAndre Liggins, like Harrellson a leftover from Billy Gillispie's days at Kentucky, hopped atop a table and pounded his chest as Knight stood at halfcourt and soaked in the moment.
The victory proved sweet vindication for the two holdovers, who were mostly spectators last season as Calipari revitalized the program behind a star-studded freshmen class led by John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.
Harrellson and Liggins took this year's group of youngsters under their wing and delivered the kind of savvy veteran presence the Wildcats could have used last season, which ended with a loss to an experienced West Virginia squad in the East regional final.
Liggins finished with 15 points for the Wildcats, who beat Ohio State for the first time in the NCAA tournament behind a suffocating defense that limited the Buckeyes to 32 percent shooting.
Sullinger led Ohio State (34-3) with 21 points and 16 rebounds, but the Buckeyes fell in the regional semifinals for a second straight season. Sullinger said in the aftermath he expects to return for his sophomore year, if only to wash out the taste of a bitter end to an otherwise spectacular season.
Ohio State rolled through the regular season but like the last two top overall seeds entering the NCAA tournament, the Buckeyes are going home early.
The win gives Kentucky a chance to avenge a loss to the Tar Heels earlier in the season. The Wildcats fell 75-73 in Chapel Hill in December, a game in which they gave away several chances to win.
Those days seem long gone. Kentucky has won nine straight and developed the kind of grit Calipari knew would come if he stayed patient with his freshmen-laden roster.
The Wildcats succeeded where so many teams have failed this season against the Buckeyes, dominating them on the defensive end.
Kentucky swarmed the 3-point line, limiting the sharpshooting Buckeyes – who'd made 28 3-pointers in easy victories over Texas-San Antonio and George Mason – to just 6 of 16 3-pointers.
Ohio State wasn't any better inside the arc, shooting just 33 percent from the field as everyone besides Sullinger struggled to find room against Kentucky's myriad of defensive looks.
"I think, honestly, some of the shots we missed we were making all year," said Diebler, who finished with 16 points. "You have to give them credit, I thought they did a good job channeling shots with their length, but we've faced length all year. They just didn't go in."
The first NCAA meeting between the two schools in 24 years had a Final Four feel. There were 19 lead changes, with no team leading by more than three points over the final 17 minutes.
It's a situation where the Wildcats had faltered early in the season. At one point they were 0-6 in games decided by five points or less.
Those days seem like a long time ago. Kentucky made all the big plays when it mattered as Ohio State blinked in the face of the Wildcats' unrelenting pressure.
Kentucky's withstood a skittish opening 9 minutes to forge a 30-30 tie at the break thanks largely to some inspired play by Harrellson. The little-used reserve a year ago has blossomed into a blue collar cult hero as a senior, and his leadership kept Kentucky in it after Terrence Jones and Knight battled jitters and early foul trouble.
Harrellson took Sullinger off the dribble for one basket and screamed after dunking off a pick-and-roll for another. Later in the half he drew the ire of Ohio State coach Thad Matta after beaning Sullinger with a fastball while falling out of bounds.
The Wildcats also did something few teams have been able to do this year: bottle up Ohio State's 3-point shooters. The Buckeyes came in averaging nearly 8 made 3-pointers a game, knocking down 28 in their first two tournament games combined.
Ohio State only made two in the first half, both by Diebler, as the Wildcats extended the defense to prevent open looks.
It set the stage for a chippy second half that ended with another highlight-reel shot by the precocious Knight.