So rather than sulk after foul trouble and some solid Gonzaga defense frustrated him for 36 minutes Saturday, the quickly maturing big man relaxed, took a deep breath and hoisted the Buckeyes on his broad shoulders.
Sullinger scored 18 points, including two big baskets on soft hook shots in the final 3 minutes to lead Ohio State to a 73-66 victory and a spot in the regional semifinals for the third consecutive year.
“I knew that throwing my body and creating contact wasn’t going to work in this game,” he said. “So I kind of just went with a little bit of finesse and just tried to get off-the-body contact and try to go up and finish.”
And finish off the original bracket busters in the process.
DeShaun Thomas also scored 18 for the second-seeded Buckeyes (29-7), while Aaron Craft added 17 points and 10 assists. Ohio State will play Florida State or Cincinnati in Boston on Thursday.
When Sullinger spent the last 9:12 of the first half on the bench with two fouls, the Buckeyes relied on Craft and Thomas to erase a seven-point deficit.
Then, with the Bulldogs surging after wiping out a 10-point Ohio State lead.
The Buckeyes went back to Sullinger, though such measures hardly seemed necessary after a putback by Thomas gave the Buckeyes a 58-48 lead. The Bulldogs (26-7) responded with a 13-3 run capped by a 3-pointer by Harris that tied it at 61 with 4:05 to go.
Gary Bell Jr. led Gonzaga with 18 points.
WISCONSIN 60, VANDERBILT 57
In Albuquerque, N.M., Wisconsin held the Southeastern Conference’s two leading scorers in check and Ryan Evans grabbed a crucial rebound with 2.1 seconds left to help Wisconsin (26-9) fend off Vanderbilt (25-11).
John Jenkins (20.1) and Jeffery Taylor (16.3) were held to 13 and 9 points, respectively. Trailing 59-57, the Commodores had a chance for the win, but Jenkins’ 3-pointer was long and Evans grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 2.1 seconds left.
He sank the first free throw but after a Vanderbilt timeout, he missed the second and the Commodores called another timeout with 1.3 seconds left to set up the full-court play.
Jared Berggren got his right hand on Lance Goulbourne’s overhand heave and as the ball deflected high, he started celebrating Wisconsin’s fifth trip to the regional semifinals under coach Bo Ryan as the horn sounded.
The Badgers were led by Jordan Taylor’s 14 points.