BOSTON — Ohio State won the Battle of the Buckeye State and advanced to the NCAA regional finals for the first time since 2007.
Deshaun Thomas scored 26 points and Jared Sullinger had 23 points and 11 rebounds to lead second-seeded Ohio State to an 81-66 victory over No. 6 seed Cincinnati on Thursday night.
Aaron Craft added 11 points — all in the second half — with five assists and six steals, taking charge during a 17-1 second-half run that turned a four-point deficit into a double-digit lead.
Cashmere Wright scored 18 and Sean Kilpatrick had 15 for the Bearcats, who were attempting to match Big East rival Syracuse by beating a Big Ten opponent to advance to the East Regional finals. The top-seeded Orange advanced earlier Thursday at the TD Garden by beating fourth-seeded Wisconsin 64-63.
It’s the first trip to the regional finals for Ohio State (30-7) since it lost in the 2007 championship game to Florida.
The state of Ohio placed four teams in the round of 16, and the Buckeyes are the first to advance. Ohio plays North Carolina and Xavier plays Baylor on Friday.
Despite just about 100 miles separating their campuses along I-71, Ohio State and Cincinnati had played just once since the 1962 national championship game.
This one was evenly matched — for about 30 minutes.
Wearing Day-Glo orange shoelaces and piping on their jerseys, Cincinnati (26-11) fell behind by 12 at the half before going on a 19-4 run early in the second. It was ahead 52-48 with 11:34 to play when Ohio State took over, allowing just one free throw over the next 5½ minutes.
That effectively ended the season for Cincinnati, which fought its way back into prominence after a Dec. 10 brawl with crosstown rival Xavier.
The Musketeers, who were unbeaten and No. 8 in the nation at the time, lost their top three scorers and then five of their next six games. But Cincinnati, which fell to 5-3 with the 23-point loss at Xavier, won 10 of its next 11 games despite using a four-guard offense made necessary by the six-game suspensions of Yancy Gates and center Cheikh Mbodj.
The Bearcats reached the final of the Big East tournament and beat Texas and Florida State in the NCAAs to reach the regional semifinals for the first time since 2001.
Ohio State, which lost to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game, reached the round of 16 by beating 15th-seeded Loyola of Maryland and No. 7 seed Gonzaga.
The Buckeyes led Cincinnati by five when Thomas hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Ohio State scored 10 of the last 13 points in the half to open a 37-25 lead. But Cincinnati opened the second half with a run of its own, tying it 41-all on JaQuon Parker’s baby hook shot in the lane.
The Bearcats led 52-48 on Gates’ three-point play with 11:34 left. But Ohio State went on a 17-1 run to turn the four-point deficit into a 12-point lead.
Wright 6-12 2-2 18, Dixon 3-10 1-2 8, Kilpatrick 6-12 0-0 15, Gates 3-7 1-1 7, Parker 4-10 1-3 10, Davis III 0-0 0-0 0, Jackson 4-5 0-0 8, Mbodj 0-0 0-0 0, Guyn 0-0 0-0 0, Sanders 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-56 5-8 66.
OHIO STATE (30-7)
Sullinger 7-13 9-10 23, Thomas 10-17 3-4 26, Craft 2-7 6-10 11, Smith, Jr. 6-7 0-0 15, Buford 1-8 1-2 4, Scott 1-4 0-1 2, Thompson 0-0 0-0 0, Ravenel 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-56 19-27 81.
Halftime—Ohio St. 37-25. Three-point goals—Cincinnati 9-23 (Wright 4-6, Kilpatrick 3-8, Parker 1-4, Dixon 1-5), Ohio St. 8-17 (Smith, Jr. 3-4, Thomas 3-5, Buford 1-2, Craft 1-4, Sullinger 0-2). Fouled Out—Jackson, Wright. Rebounds—Cincinnati 29 (Jackson, Parker 6), Ohio St. 35 (Sullinger 11). Assists—Cincinnati 8 (Wright 3), Ohio St. 14 (Craft 5). Total Fouls—Cincinnati 21, Ohio St. 11. A—18,796.