LOS ANGELES — How’s that for an encore?
Call it The Shot Part II.
Five days after Aaron Craft knifed into Ohio State lore with a game-winning 3-pointer, another buzzer-beating long ball further raised the stakes of the Buckeyes’ charmed postseason run in Thursday night’s regional semifinal.
Forward LaQuinton Ross’ hit a 3 from the wing with 2 seconds left to lift second-seeded OSU to a 73-70 victory over No. 6-seed Arizona and within one win of the Final Four.
In a fitting final act for a wild game that swung from a double-digit OSU deficit in the first half to a double-digit lead in the second, the sophomore reserve delivered one final big play in a tour-de-force stretch run filled with them.
After changing in the same locker as NBA star Kobe Bryant inside the Lakers’ locker room, Ross scored 14 of the Buckeyes’ 17 final points to hold off a desperate late Arizona charge — including the 3-pointer for which he always be remembered.
Ross fouled Arizona star Mark Lyons on a traditional three-point play that tied the game at 70 with 21 seconds left, then wasted only 19 seconds to deliver his redemption with the game-winner from just beyond the arc.
“It feels great, man,” said Ross, who finished with 17. “This is what every player grows up watching on TV. You want to hit that big shot for your team in the NCAA tournament or the NBA. It just feels great to be here right now.”
And it’s a ride that shows no signs of ending, the seas of the Pacific Ocean now parting for the Buckeyes to raid the sport’s biggest weekend for the second straight year.
OSU (29-7) will be the heavy favorite in Saturday’s regional final against Wichita State, the winner of Thursday night’s late game between ninth-seeded the 9-seed and 13-seed La Salle.
“It just feels great to be here right now,” Ross said.
Few could have seen the finish coming. Evoking shades of the Sweet 16 in 2007, when OSU rallied from a 19-point deficit to stun Tennessee, the Buckeyes appeared jet-lagged from the start.
They missed one point-blank layup after another while Arizona couldn’t miss, hitting 9 of its first 16 shots and opening a 31-20 lead. Worse for OSU, Craft was sidelined with his second foul midway through the second half while the Wildcats just appeared a bad matchup.
Lyons, a senior guard who scored 50 points in the Wildcats’ first-weekend wins, continued his roasting month with 10 points in the first nine minutes while an OSU team at its best playing a small lineup struggled with a long Arizona frontline anchored by 7-foot freshman Kaleb Tarczewski.
Yet just as the night appeared on the brink of tilting away for good, Craft returned and OSU closed the half on a 14-7 run before taking off.
The Buckeyes opened the second half with a 10-0 run to push ahead 44-38, then built the lead to as many as 10 at 53-43.
They also began to lock down on defense, holding Lyons — who finished with 23 points — without a point for nearly 20 minutes after the early burst. Arizona shot 39.3 percent (11 of 28) in the second half.
“The biggest thing for us was the second half, we defended,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “We got our defense back. I told our guys at halftime that it was probably the most selfish defensive effort we’ve played in a long time. We needed to be more active, more aware, helping more.”
Then there was the Buckeyes’ secret weapon off the bench. Ross played only 18 minutes but made them count, helping OSU avoid a wrenching finale after it blew a late five-point lead in less than a minute. He scored 14 of his 17 points over the last eight minutes.
“He’s a great player, and it’s great to see him knock that last shot down,” Craft said. “As long as the ball gets in there, I could care less who shoots it.”
Deshaun Thomas led OSU with 20 points while Craft added 13 points and five assists.
Contact David Briggs at: email@example.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @ DBriggsBlade.