The NCAA Tournament entered the Regional Finals Saturday with contests in the East and West Regionals, with both ending in the lower seeded club moving on to the Final Four. In the East Regional, No. 4 Syracuse dominated No. 3 Marquette, 55:39, and in the West, No. 9 Wichita State built a 20-point advantage, only to have Ohio State erase their deficit and pull to within three, only to fall 70:66.
Syracuse – Marquette, 55:39
In a battle of two Big East schools on the home court of another Big East school, it was the squad that played the toughest defense that earned their coach a fourth trip to the Final Four.
Marquette was never really in the game as the Syracuse 2-3 zone kept their offense out of synch and their shooters off balance to the tune of just 39 points, their lowest this season by eight points. Frustrating for Marquette is the fact that they scored 74 against the same Orangemen just two months ago. Their total points is the lowest in an NCAA Regional Final since 1986 when the shot clock was introduced in collegiate basketball.
The first half was very low scoring contest with Syracuse leading 15:6 mid-way through the initial 20. With six minutes remaining in the first half Davante Gardner dropped in a jumper for Marquette from the high post, which was followed-up on the other end of the hardwood with a layup from Rakeem Christmas, giving Syracuse a 21:10 advantage. From there, it would be five minutes before the Orangemen would find the bottom of the net, while the Golden Eagles would run off eight straight to slice the margin from 11 to three, 21:18, with just over three minutes to play. Marquette joined the scoring drought for the rest of the half, but James Southerland was able to knock down a triple to close out scoring in the first half at 24:18.
The second half started out with the two clubs not being able to connect, nearly six minutes into the second 20 Syracuse had scored on two split sets of singles and Marquette had a layup and free throw, bringing the score to 26:21. Shortly after each team dropped in a jumper, which seemed to take the lid off the baskets as scoring picked up significantly over the next few minutes with Syracuse leading 39:28 at the 10 minute mark.
Over the last 10 minutes of the contest Marquette tried to get back in the game with the long-ball, but they just couldn’t connect and Syracuse was content with working the ball around to burn the shot clock before taking the ball to the hole.
In the end, the story was defense and Marquette’s inability to consistently put the ball in the basket. For the game they shot 22% inside the arc and 12% outside the arc, compared to 38% for Syracuse inside and 29% from long-range.
Syracuse will next play the winner of the South Regional, Michigan or Florida, in the National Semifinals on April 6 in Atlanta.
Syracuse was led by Southerland’s 16 points. They also got 13 points from C.J. Fair, and 12 points and 11 rebounds from Michael Williams-Carter.
Marquette got 14 each from Gardner and Junior Cadougan.
Wichita State – Ohio State, 70:66
In the West Regional, it looked like Wichita State was going to completely run away with their final against Ohio State, but the Buckeyes made a game out of it before coming up short to send the Shockers to the Final Four for the first time since 1965.
The two clubs played evenly through the first 12 minutes of the first half, with Wichita State holding a slim lead at 17:15. The Shockers ran off eight unanswered in less than a minute to get up by 10, 25:15 with six minutes left in the half. By the end of the first 20 they had gotten up by 13, 35:22.
Wichita State continued extending their advantage through the first part of the second half and at the end of a trio of singles dropped in by Ron Baker, they were up 20, 51:31, with just under 13 minutes to play.
After a Fred Van Vleet triple brought the score to 56:36, Ohio State went on a 0:9 run to cut the gap to 11. After four from the Shockers, the Buckeyes hit another seven in a row to get to within eight, 60:52. Baker sank a pair of singles, then LaQuinton Ross hit a triple, a pair of free throws and Shannon Scott dropped in a pair of singles to pull within three, 62:59, with just under three minutes to play.
Tekele Cotton gave Wichita State some breathing room with a three-ball, but Deshaun Thomas hit a driving layup to get back to within four, 65:61. Van Vleet hit a jumper and Baker connected on a pair of charity tosses, extending the lead back to eight, 69:61 with 51.3 seconds to play. Scott scored a layup to cut the lead to six with 40.9 seconds. The Shockers couldn’t connected, but Ohio State missed on a triple and a deuce attempt the next time down the floor, letting their Final Four aspirations slip away. Aaron Craft was able to knock down a three-pointer before the buzzer, but they ran out of time and fell 70:66.
Malcolm Armstead led the Shockers efforts with 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists. Cleanthony Early (7 rebounds ) and Van Vleet added 12 points a piece, and Cotton dropped in 10 points while hauling in 5 rebounds.
Thomas paced Ohio State with 21 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists, and Ross dropped in 19 points, while grabbing 5 rebounds.