There were stretches of the season when LaQuinton Ross seldom saw the court, but Thursday the sophomore forward was the reason the Buckeyes’ season didn’t come to an end.
Ross’ 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds remaining gave the Buckeyes a 73-70 victory and advanced OSU to the Elite 8 for the second consecutive year.
The Buckeyes had to overcome a first-half hole to get there, though.
It was largely behind the offense of Deshaun Thomas that the Buckeyes were able to dig themselves out.
Behind the junior forward’s 20 points, OSU employed a second-half surge to beat the Wildcats at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
The win marks back-to-back years that the Buckeyes have made it to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite 8 and the third year they’ve made it since Matta’s arrival in 2004.
While OSU’s scoring began with a basket from Thomas, Arizona responded with a 10-2 run to pull ahead early, 10-4, with 15:46 to play in the period.
Behind senior guard Mark Lyons and his 10 first-half points, the Wildcats shot 50 percent from the field and, in particular, used a lethal 3-point assault to stave off a Buckeye squad that struggled to find little – if any – momentum.
Despite Arizona sinking 63 percent of shots from behind the arc, OSU coach Thad Matta and his crew trotted into halftime down just 38-34, thanks to Thomas and his 16-point outburst in the first 20 minutes.
It didn’t take long for the rest of OSU to catch on.
The Buckeyes roared out of the gates on a 10-0 run thanks to sophomore forward Sam Thompson, junior guards Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Aaron Craft and even sophomore center Amir Williams – who swatted away a shot on one end of the floor before snatching a rebound over two defenders and going up for the jam on the other.
Conversely, in that span, Arizona found scoring to be a more troubling endeavor than it was in the first.
In fact, the Wildcats wouldn’t make a basket until freshman forward Brandon Ashley connected on a short jumper a the 14:40 mark of the second half.
The struggles for Sean Miller’s squad didn’t end there, as Arizona could only muster five points the first nine minutes of the second period and trailed the Buckeyes by as many as 10 after leading all but 33 seconds in the first half.
The Wildcats responded, though, cutting the OSU lead to 60-57 after Lyons buried a trey with 6:33 to play.
With 21.8 seconds to play, Lyons tied the game at 70 after making a driving layup despite being fouled, then making the ensuing free throw.
All of it, though, was not enough.
Surging late for the Buckeyes was sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross, who scored 14 of his 17 points in the game’s final eight minutes.
Ultimately, Ross’ 3-pointer with two seconds to play sealed OSU’s victory.
The Buckeyes (29-7) are set to play Saturday in the Elite 8. They will face the winner of No. 13 seed La Salle and No. 9 seed Wichita State at 7:05 p.m. ET.