NEWARK, N.J. (AP) – Brandon Knight answered a tying 3-pointer by the Buckeyes’ Jon Diebler with a floating jumper in the closing seconds Friday night, allowing the young but talented Wildcats to stun the No. 1 overall seed 62-60 in the marquee game of the regional semifinals.
Kentucky will play North Carolina for a spot in the Final Four.
”It’s hard because, as I said earlier, I’ve never had a team like this, that united, that bonded, just their togetherness,” Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said. ”You think about starting Oct. 15 and it’s March 26, and you have three bumps in the road. All three teams we lost to this year were at some point ranked in the top 10 in the country.
”It’s hard,” Matta said. ”I have to be honest with you.”
It was the final game of David Lighty’s lengthy college career. He came in as part of the ”Thad Five” recruiting class that included Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., Daequan Cook and Othello Hunter. All of them have moved on early, and now Lighty will join them.
It was the final game for Diebler, the leading schoolboy scorer in the state of Ohio, and perhaps the best 3-point shooter in the history of the Big Ten. He hit four more 3s against the Wildcats, including a critical tying shot from well beyond the arc with 10 seconds left.
Most figured it was the final game for Jared Sullinger, too, the freshman who churned out yet another double-double against Kentucky. He had with 21 points and 16 rebounds in perhaps his finest all-around performance, one that is sure to leave NBA scouts salivating.
Especially after he announced his plans to return for another season.
At least the Buckeyes can take solace in that.
”It hurts, just because we felt we could make a run at the championship,” Diebler said on the dais afterward, flanked by Lighty, the two having been through so much together.
”By no means were we overlooking this team,” Diebler said. ”Coach said they’re a very good basketball team, very talented. To win the games they won in the SEC, you have to tip your hat to them. But obviously everyone wants to finish their season in Houston.”
It’s the second straight time that the Buckeyes have lost in the regional semifinals; they were a No. 2 seed when they lost 76-73 to Tennessee last year.
It was also the first time that Ohio State has lost to Kentucky in the NCAA tournament, winning the previous five meetings against one of college basketball’s premier programs.
The game figured to be a contrast in style as much as personnel, and it was.
The youthful Wildcats wanted to get out in transition, and they did their best most of the game to run the court. The veteran Buckeyes wanted to play out of half-court sets, and did a pretty good job of getting open looks, even if very few of them went down.
”The issue was who would we put on Diebler,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. ”We tried some different things, and I thought we did a pretty good job, but there are certain players that you have to go at them to change the game.”
The Buckeyes should have known that Knight, the freshman guard who scored the winner against Princeton and dropped 30 points on West Virginia, demands that same kind of attention.
Especially in the closing seconds of ballgames.
”Jon hit a huge shot, they come down and hit a huge shot. I thought we had a great look at the end. It’s just an incredible season,” Matta said, his face still red and the sweat still rolling long after the game. ”I told them I’ve never had a team like this.”
Noting the Kentucky Game:
Kentucky 62, Ohio State 60 (March 25)
- Kentucky and Ohio State met for the 20th time with the Buckeyes owning a 9-11 record in the series and a 5-1 mark in NCAA tournament play.
- Ohio State is 29-27 vs. the Southeastern Conference all-time
- The Buckeyes made their 23rd NCAA tournament appearance this year with Ohio State improving to 41-22 all-time with a 2-1 record in the 2011 tournament.
- Ohio State advanced to the Sweet 16 in three of its last four NCAA tournament appearances and in each of the last two seasons, the first back-to-back NCAA Sweet 16 appearances since the 1991 and 1992 seasons. Ohio State has 12 total Sweet 16 appearances.
- Ohio State is 10-8 in NCAA tournament play while playing in the East Region. Ohio State is 12-4 as the No. 1 seed. Thad Matta is 17-9 in NCAA tournament games over his 11-year coaching career. He is 10-5 as a Buckeye in NCAA play.
- Ohio State has won at least one game in NCAA Tournament play in 21 of 23 years in which it has appeared.
- The Buckeyes’ 34-3 overall record was the second-best start in school history (1960-61, 27-0). The win total also is second to the 35 wins recorded in 2007 (35-4).
- As a ranked team, Ohio State is 395-108 all-time.
- Ohio State is 72-6 when ranked No. 1 by the Associated Press and 24-4 as the nation’s top team in the coaches poll.
- The Buckeyes are 132-20 when ranked among the Top 3 in the country.
- When ranked in the Top 10 nationally, Ohio State is 274-59.
- The Kentucky game was the 262st-consecutive game Ohio State has made at least one 3-point field goal (1/10/04 vs. Penn State was the last game with zero made).
- Ohio State’s four returning starters for 2010-11 (Jon Diebler, David Lighty, Dallas Lauderdale and William Buford) combined for 440 career starts and 545 games played.
- Thad Matta teams own four of the top eight single season win totals in Ohio State history.
- The 34-3 record to begin the season is the best start for Thad Matta at Ohio State (previous best was in 2005-06, when the team began 11-0).
- This season is the seventh-consecutive year Matta has guided the Buckeyes to a 20-win campaign. That extends the longest streak in Ohio State history.
- Matta has won at least 20 games in each of his 11 seasons as a head coach. Only Mark Few (Gonzaga), among active coaches, has more consecutive 20-win seasons to start a career.
- Matta’s career record now stands at 292-88 overall and 190-57 at Ohio State.
- Ohio State is 38-20 in March under Matta and 7-1 this season.
- Matta is 92-18 vs. non-conference competition at Ohio State and 98-39 vs. Big Ten foes (regular season and Big Ten tournament games) for an overall record of 190-57.
- First-Team All-Big Ten Jared Sullinger finished the contest with 21 points. Sullinger has scored at least 10 points in 34 of 37 games.
- With 21 points, Sullinger improved on his 600+ points (635) in his rookie campaign. Kosta Koufos was the last freshman to reach 500 points in a rookie season with 534 in 2008-09. Evan Turner and William Buford each scored more than 500 points last season. Buford reached 500+ again with 18 vs. GMU. He has 511 on the season. Sullinger is second in scoring during a freshman season at Ohio State. Michael Redd is first with 658 points in 1998.
- Sullinger also added a team-high 16 rebounds for the Buckeyes vs. Kentucky (his 10.2 average is second in the Big Ten). He now has 377 rebounds on the season.
- Sullinger’s 361 rebounds are the most by a freshman at Ohio State.
- Jon Diebler’s current 3-point field goal percentage of 50.2 percent (114-227) puts him in the record books as having the best single-season 3-point percentage.
- Diebler’s 50 percent shooting percentage from 3-point range is No. 1 in the Big Ten.
- With four made 3-pointers, Diebler extended his streak to 53 games in a row with at least one 3-pointer made.
- With 16 points against Kentucky, Diebler finished with 1,536 career points passing Gary Bradds for 13th place all-time in OSU scoring.
- The game marked the 26th time this season Diebler has scored in double-figures.
- The game vs. Kentucky was Diebler’s 144th game donning the Scarlet and Gray, good for second all-time at Ohio State.
- David Lighty, the third player in Ohio State history to reach 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 300 assists, ended the Kentucky contest with 12 points, two rebounds and four assists. Lighty’s finished with: 1,458 points, 577 rebounds and 374 assists.
- With 12 points, Lighty ended with 1,458 for his career, 19th place in career scoring at Ohio State.
- Lighty was a part of 129 Buckeye victories during his tenure in Columbus (Lighty had 35 wins as a freshman, 24 as a sophomore and 29 as a junior in 2009-10. He is credited with seven wins at the start of the 2008-09 season, which ended when he broke his right foot and earned a medical redshirt). The previous record was set by Danny Peters and Mark Titus (both played from 2007-10), earning 110 wins apiece.
- Lighty played in 157 games as a Buckeye, the most all-time in an Ohio State uniform. Lighty also led all NCAA active players in games played in 2011.
- The game vs. Kentucky marked senior David Lighty’s 125th career start for Ohio State third all-time as a Buckeye.
- Junior guard William Buford had nine points. His career total now stands at 1,424, 22nd in scoring all-time. Paul Ebert is No. 21 with 1,436 career points.
- Aaron Craft had two assists. He finished his rookie season with 177 assists on the season to just 79 turnovers. Craft averaged 4.8 assists per game, leading all league freshmen.
- Craft also had four steals for 73 total on the season (his 2.0 average per game is first in the Big Ten), leading all league freshman.