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PITTSBURGH — Ohio State used its size advantage to handle Loyola, Md., dominating the Greyhounds the way a No. 2 seed is expected to handle a 15 seed.
The Buckeyes made sure there wouldn’t be a second scare at the Consol Energy Center.
Deshaun Thomas scored a career-high 31 points and grabbed 12 rebounds — one off his career best — to lead Ohio State to a 78-59 victory Thursday night in the second round of the East Regional.
That was far different from top-seeded Syracuse’s 72-65 victory over North Carolina-Asheville, a game that had many thinking it could be the first time a No. 16 seed beat a No. 1.
“Obviously this tournament is about advancing, and that’s what we did tonight,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “I don’t think we played at the level we need to. Our guys know that. Give Loyola a ton of credit for that. They came at us.”
William Buford had 17 points and Jared Sullinger added 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Buckeyes (28-7), who dominated the smaller Greyhounds inside, finishing with a 49-24 rebound advantage.
“Deshaun was excellent on the boards and also scoring the basketball,” Sullinger said. “He pretty much carried this team. I don’t think we would have won it without him.”
Ohio State will play seventh-seeded Gonzaga in the third round Saturday. The Bulldogs beat 10th-seeded West Virginia 77-54.
“We got to get ourselves ready to go,” Matta said. “Obviously with what Gonzaga did tonight, we got another great challenge on Saturday.”
The Buckeyes, who were ranked in the top 10 all season and were a tri-champion of the Big Ten in the regular season, twice took a 15-point lead in the first half and then led by as many as 20 — 70-50 on a basket by Thomas with 5:34 to play.
Erik Etherly had 19 points for the Greyhounds (24-9), the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champions, who were in the tournament for the second time and first since 1994.
“To play Ohio State, one of the best teams in the country, you’re not going to win that game without having everything go right. We didn’t have everything go right,” Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos said. “We played hard and competed, and the guys had a great experience.”
It was Ohio State’s 28th NCAA tournament appearance and fourth in a row, and the Buckeyes looked as though they had been there before, never letting Loyola get closer than 11 points in the second half.
“We tried to get out after halftime to break the lead down a little smaller,” Loyola’s Dylon Cormier said. “They had the better hand. They executed well and extended the lead.”
The Greyhounds made a run against Ohio State’s reserves, closing within 70-59 with 2:18 to play. Matta put Thomas, Sullinger and Buford back in the game, and the Buckeyes closed with an 8-0, the last six points on two 3-pointers by Buford, who had three of Ohio State’s five 3s.
“We made our runs and then we relaxed,” Matta said. “We’d make our runs again, then we would relax.”
Ohio State’s size advantage led to the Buckeyes outscoring Loyola 38-24 inside and had 15 second-chance points to six for the Greyhounds, who were outrebounded 16-5 on the offensive end.
The 6-foot-9 Sullinger was an All-America as a freshman last season and an all-Big Ten first-teamer this season. The 6-7 Thomas, also a sophomore, was a second-team all-Big Ten pick this season. They combined for seven blocks and each hit a 3-pointer.
“I mean, I was just trying to get in the right spots at the right time, run a play, run with pace like Coach always tells us,” said Thomas, whose previous career-high was 30 points against South Carolina this season. “Then I was just knocking ‘em down. I was just feeling it a little bit.’”
The only stat that belonged to Loyola was turnovers. The Greyhounds committed 12, six less than the Buckeyes.
“Our turnovers were detrimental to the flow of our offense,” Matta said. “We had the one segment we went four or five turnovers. A lot of them were unforced.”
Loyola was one of two MAAC teams to make the tournament — only the second time it has done that — and the other was Iona, which set a tournament record by blowing a 25-point lead in a 78-72 loss to BYU in the opening round.
The Greyhounds set a school record with 24 wins, 23 more than they had eight years ago and Patsos took over the program the next season.
“I’m proud of my kids for playing,” Patsos said. “We set a school record for wins. The MAAC had two teams going to the NCAA. We’re not growing just as a program, but I think the league is growing.”