Sunday, March 20, 2011

Ohio State leaves Cleveland with look of a champion

This year’s George Mason Patriots basketball team entered Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena this afternoon with a purpose of proving they ARE this year’s Patriots, and not the 2006 team.

With a 26-point deficit by halftime, the team certainly proved its claim.

This year's Patriots definitely are not the 11-seed 2006 George Mason team that toppled three elite programs to reach the NCAA Final Four. Nope. This year’s eight-seeded squad ended its run with an embarrassing loss in the field of 32.

Led by 17 points from fifth-year senior David Lighty and freshman Jared Sullinger’s 13 points and seven rebounds, the No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes pounded George Mason 52-26 ... by halftime.

On cruise control in the second half, the Buckeyes proceeded the demolition en route to a 98-66 blowout.

Prior to the game, George Mason players said they appreciated the comparisons to the 2006 club, but tired of the talk as well. Team members sported T-shirts reading "We ARE this year's George Mason" to separate themselves from the team from five years ago.

The Patriots looked promising early on in this game. Up 6-2, senior star Cam Long pumped up a shot from beyond the arc that clanged off the back of the hoop’s rim. The ball bounced up about six feet high before falling and serendipitously rattling its way in for a seven-point George Mason lead.

Ryan Pearson followed Long’s shot with a bank-in to put the Patriots up by nine.

That’s when Ohio State figured enough is enough.

Seconds after Pearson’s hoop, Lighty responded by pulling up and calmly sinking his first of his five first half three-pointers as the Buckeyes immediately snatched momentum and seized control.

George Mason’s 11-2 lead vanquished in a hurry as Sullinger pounded the paint and his Buckeyes teammates poured in a barrage of three pointers to end the half on a 54-13 run.

By game’s end, Lighty absolutely lit it up, scoring 25 points on ten shots. The sixth-man extraordinaire came off the bench to go a perfect 7-7 from three-point range and 9-10 overall to lead the Buckeyes attack.

Sullinger had 18 points and nine rebounds, junior William Buford matched Sullinger with 18 as well, while senior marksman Jon Diebler connected on four treys in contributing 13 points for the game.

The Buckeyes leave their home state looking like champions. Next up are the highly athletic Kentucky Wildcats, whom Ohio State will face Friday in Newark, New Jersey.

Kentucky qualified for the fourth round with wins over Princeton and West Virginia. John Calipari’s squad may match the Buckeyes in athleticism, but seniority favors Ohio State. The freakishly athletic Sullinger is arguably the best freshman in the country, but Lighty headlines a fearsome force of upperclassmen who guide the Buckeye ship.

As the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, Ohio State will be favored over the four-seeded Wildcats. However, Kentucky will be certain to have its ample supply of supremely talented athletes and boatload of fervent fans.

Kentucky Blue or Buckeye Red, this Sweet Sixteen match-up should be a memorable one.

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