(2) Ohio State 77, (1) Syracuse 70 [69 possessions]
There were 49 personal fouls assessed in this game, and my plan right now is to address that topic on another occasion. Here it is sufficient to note merely that: a) both teams had stunningly bad calls made against them; and b) the foul calls subsided for one two-minute stretch in the second half which, if anything, proved even more maddening -- it showed conclusively that there was a great game here itching to get out if only the zebras had allowed it.
In a 69-possession game Syracuse recorded just 12 turnovers, more or less at their season average, but in truth the Orange will look back on this day with regret in that department. Jim Boeheim's team was down four with 4:40 remaining, but then proceeded to give the ball away on four of their next six possessions. Kris Joseph accounted for two of those turnovers, while Dion Waiters and Scoop Jardine chipped in with one apiece. By the end of that stretch Ohio State was up eight with a little more than a minute left on the clock, and the end-of-game fouling commenced in earnest.
On a day when a foul-plagued Jared Sullinger played just 26 minutes, Aaron Craft managed all of five points, and Deshaun Thomas and William Buford combined to shoot 9-for-26 from the field, Thad Matta received a big boost from Lenzelle Smith, of all people. The hitherto unprepossessing sophomore hit 3-of-6 threes, each of which was theatrically timed to take the wind out of Orange-hued sails.
(4) Louisville 72, (7) Florida 68 [65 possessions]
The Gators are hearing a lot of "live by the three, die by the three" talk because they went 0-for-9 from beyond the arc in the second half. But to me the surprising thing about this game was not that the Cardinals were able to hold the Gators to just 27 points after halftime. Rather I was much more startled to find that Rick Pitino's team was able to be so effective on offense, particularly in the closing 20 minutes.
Louisville entered this contest scoring just one point per possession in NCAA tournament action, but they were able to hang a 1.11 on UF thanks to a near-total lack of turnovers. (It was a day of widely divergent turnover fates for Big East teams in crunch time.) By ending fully 59 of their 65 possessions with a shot of some kind, whether from the field or the line, the Cards got just enough bites at the apple to outscore Billy Donovan's team.
Cardinals not named "Russ Smith" logged a collective 178 minutes and committed just two turnovers. It was an amazing, if easily overlooked, performance, one that is the direct and proximate cause of this team's impending trip to New Orleans. That being said, Russ Smith did lead the way with 19 points (concentrated Russ Smith-style in just 22 minutes), while Chane Behanan needed three fewer shots to get his 17.
Had they won, the Gators would have been lauded for their incredible balance on offense: all five starters scored between 11 and 14 points. Instead Donovan saw his team squander its second consecutive double-digit lead in the second half of an Elite Eight game. Last year Butler rallied to defeat the Gators in overtime. This time it was Louisville's turn, only they didn't need the extra five minutes.
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John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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