LOS ANGELES — As Mark Lyons lined up for a game-tying free throw in the final half-minute Thursday night, LaQuinton Ross leaned in and asked for a favor.
“He said, ‘Give me one (miss), Mark, give me one.’ I told him, ‘No, this is automatic,’” Lyons said.
“He should have told me that.”
Ross’ uncontested 3-pointer from deep on the left wing moments later, with 2.1 seconds remaining, gave Ohio State a 73-70 victory over Arizona in the NCAA West Regional at Staples Center, ending the sixth-seeded and 21st-ranked Wildcats’ energetic, entertaining season that featured highs at both ends and a bit of a lull in between.
“It’s tough to go out like this,” said Kevin Parrom, one of three seniors playing his last game. “We were all in. We had great year. We lost to a great team. We had plenty of chances to win the game. It’s the nature of this game, the best part of this tournament. You survive and advance. We couldn’t pull it off, so we go home.
”All the effort we put in to it go to Atlanta (the Final Four) is gone just like that, in one shot.”
The Wildcats watched Buckeyes point guard Aaron Craft hit a 3-pointer to break a tie in the final second of a 78-75 victory over Iowa State in the NCAA subregional in Dayton last Sunday, and so, while they were guarding against anything on that final possession, they expected Craft to shoot it again.
Craft took control of the ball, yo-yoing it deep on the left side near the half-court line after Lyons’ free throw with 21.8 seconds left tied the score at 70-all, with UA coming all the way back from a 10-point deficit with 11 minutes left and a five-point deficit with 1:07 left.
Craft dribbled past a Ross screen at the top of the key, and when defender Nick Johnson stayed with Craft, he passed the ball to Ross, who was set up at NBA 3-point range. Ross got his shot off before Grant Jerrett could get to him, and the second-seeded and seventh-ranked Buckeyes (29-7) advanced to the Elite Eight, where they will play Wichita State on Saturday.
Jerrett, a 6-foot-10 freshman, was inconsolable afterward, sitting in the Wildcats’ locker room with a towel covering his face until Lyons walked over and said a few words.
“In high school I dealt with this, coming down to the last play, losing a big game. No one died,” Jerrett said.
“It was just a miscommunication. Obviously I take the blame for it. It was the last play. I’ve been in so many before, and it seems like it always goes the other way. We had problems throughout the second half dealing with defense. It just stinks that it has to end on that last shot.”
Arizona (27-8) was not done in by the end of the second half as much as by the first three minutes, when Ohio State scored the first 10 points to take a 44-38 lead. The Wildcats missed their first five shots and committed two turnovers, and the Buckeyes raced to the other end for three layups and four free throws before Brandon Ashley broke the drought on a 15-foot jumper on a feed from Solomon Hill.
The quick second-half start extended a 22-9 Buckeyes run that began with six minutes left in the first half, and the Wildcats could not recover, as much as Hill and Lyons tried.
Lyons, a senior who became the first player to reach the Sweet 16 in successive seasons with different teams after making the last two with Xavier, led Arizona with 23 points. He had nine in the first 11 minutes of the game to help UA to its 33-22 lead and had 12 in the final 6 1/2 minutes.
Hill, who had 16 in his final game for UA, had 16 points and three assists and was there when the Wildcats needed him most. He had nine consecutive Wildcat points after Ohio State 6-foot-7 forward Deshaun Thomas made a 3-pointer from the top of the key to make it 53-43 with 11 minutes left. Hill penetrated for two short jumpers in the lane, a left-handed layup and a slashing slam dunk and ensuing free throw in a span of 1:56 to pull the Wildcats within four at 56-52. The margin was never greater than six again.
“They came out in the second half with a bang. We weren’t expecting that,” Parrom said. “We should expect that at during this time of the tournament. Guys are going to play every possession. They came out in the second half and they smacked us right in the face, and we responded kind of late. That’s the game.
“The first three minutes of the second half was key for them. We climbed back into the game. Tough shot at the end of the game.”
Thomas, the leading scorer in the Big Ten with a 19.8-point average, was right at his average, scoring 20, and Craft had 13 points, five rebounds and five assists.
It was the peripheral players who made the difference for Ohio State. Starting forward Sam Thompson, who averaged 7.8 points a game coming in, had 11 points and eight rebounds. And Ross, who attended the same summer camp as Lyons last offseason, had his second straight 17-point game, making 5-of-8 field-goal attempts and all five of his free throws. He was 2-for-2 from 3-point range, a tough cover because he is a mobile 6-foot-8.
“He’s a difficult matchup, because he can play the 3, 4 and 5,” Parrom said. “He can pick and pop, as you guys saw on the last play. He’s dangerous as far as his length and his overall talent. He got hot. If you’re hot, why not keep shooting? If you are driving, keep driving. He had a good game.
“That’s how it works in March. You need full effort from all your players. Give credit to Ohio State. Their bench did what they needed to do. They made some tough plays, and that’s the way the game goes.”