JAMES CRISP / AP Enlarge
LEXINGTON, Ky. - The formula for Ohio State to reach the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament included an X-factor. If the Buckeyes found themselves in a tough spot along the way, with seven-footer Greg Oden out of the equation due to fouls, then something unexpected would have to materialize to help them move on.
Yesterday, that variable was Ron Lewis, and his value to Ohio State was more than the 27 points he scored. After helping the Buckeyes come back from nine points down with less than three minutes to play in regulation, Lewis knocked down a 3-point bomb with two seconds left that pushed the Buckeyes' game with Xavier to overtime, and Ohio State prevailed 78-71.
"I was just trying to get an open look," said Lewis, who took a handoff from point guard Mike Conley Jr. before launching the long jump shot. "I told Mike before we left the huddle to get me the ball. When Greg fouls out, we don't have the offense inside, so the scoring load transfers to others."
"Ron was hot, and he wasn't missing too many shots," Conley said. "So he had the confidence, and I was going to look for him. Luckily, we got a good shot out of it."
For most of the second half, the developing equation had Ohio State (32-3) headed for disaster and Xavier (25-9) in position to pull off the most stunning upset of the tournament, and do so in historic Rupp Arena. The Musketeers took the lead midway through the second half, and stretched it to as much as 55-44 on a Drew Lavender 3-pointer that just beat the shot clock with about seven minutes to play.
Ohio State chipped away, with Lewis doing most of the offensive work. Two free throws from Lewis cut it to 59-52 with 2:54 left, then he drove to the basket, got fouled, and completed the three-point-play to make it 59-58 with 1:36 left.
Xavier went back up by three after a pair of Justin Cage free throws with just over a minute left. A free throw from Oden cut it to two, and after both teams missed shots, Oden was tagged for his fifth foul, sending Cage to the line with 9.3 seconds left.
Cage, who led Xavier with 25 points and went 8 of 8 from the field, hit the first foul shot for a 62-59 lead, then had the second one that would have made it a four-point Xavier edge go in-and-out. The Buckeyes rushed the ball up the floor and Lewis hit the triple that tied it at 62.
"We played well enough to win against a really great team," Xavier coach Sean Miller said. "We were right there."
Conley took control in the overtime, scoring 11 points as Ohio State led all but the first 40 seconds of the extra session. Conley finished with 21 points. Oden had 14 points and 12 rebounds, and Jamar Butler tallied 13 points.
"After the way we came back, we went into that overtime with a lot of confidence," Conley said. "We had come too far to lose the game."
The Buckeyes led 29-25 at the half, but Xavier started moving its big men further from the basket and Oden in the second half, and when the 3-pointers started falling, Ohio State's lead was gone. The 6-6 Cage nailed one from the corner for a 35-33 Xavier advantage, then 6-9 Josh Duncan hit one of his three triples. Another 3-pointer from Cage gave Xavier a 47-41 lead with 10 minutes left in the game.
"Xavier went on a blitz there in the second half. Their guys started making shots, and it kind of rattled us a bit," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "We knew Xavier was going to be a really tough matchup for us, for all the reasons we saw today.
"We had been telling the guys to keep their confidence up, and keep working at it, but when Lavender hit that three, it was the first time I thought, uh-oh, this isn't good."
In the midst of the flurry of points by Lewis in the final minutes of regulation, Conley had stolen an inbounds pass to give Ohio State another chance to close the gap.
"Any kind of situation you can think of - we've been in it," Conley said. "Today was nothing different. We just had to be patient, and not force things. We didn't try to get it all back at once, and we made the big plays when we had to."
The Buckeyes move on to San Antonio where they will meet Tennessee or Virginia in an NCAA regional semifinal game Thursday.
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