DAYTON, Ohio -- Sam Thompson reached back with his right hand, snared the slightly off-target pass and dunked it in one forceful motion, providing Ohio State with its grandest slam.
And far from the only one.
Thompson had career highs with 20 points and 10 rebounds on Friday night, part of a dominating performance by Ohio State's high-flying front line, and the Buckeyes ran away to a 95-70 victory over Iona in the second round of the West Regional.
The second-seeded Buckeyes (27-7) are in prime March form with nine straight wins, including their last five games of the regular season and a run to the Big Ten tournament title.
"We have a lot of confidence," Thompson said. "We know that if we come out and do the things we're supposed to do on both sides of the ball, we could beat any team in the country."
Given a chance to run the floor against an overmatched team, the Buckeyes left Iona (20-14) looking up and marveling.
"They're jumping above anyone on our team on a lot of the plays and finishing a lot of dunks and a lot of things we can't even get up in the air to get near," Iona coach Tim Cluess said.
Forward Deshaun Thomas has led the Buckeyes in scoring during their winning streak, averaging 17.6 points per game. He had 24 points as the Buckeyes' fast breaks led to dunks and a season high in points, thrilling the large Ohio State contingent.
Even Buckeyes coach Thad Matta -- a traditionalist when it comes to scoring style -- enjoyed the dunk show.
"It's something kids thoroughly enjoy doing, probably to a fault," Matta said. "I think guys growing up would probably rather be able to dunk than run a clean pick-and-roll.
"So we've tried to scale them down in terms of that. The dunk shot is obviously a crowd igniter. It does all those things. But honestly, I want the two points, and let's run back and play defense."
Aaron Craft had a season-high six steals and seven assists for the Buckeyes. Shannon Scott tied his career high with 10 assists.
Ohio State plays 10th-seeded Iowa State on Sunday, one win away from a fourth straight trip to the round of 16.
Iona returned to the court where it suffered the biggest meltdown in NCAA tournament history last year, blowing a 25-point lead. The Gaels are 1-9 all-time in the tournament with their only win -- over Holy Cross in 1980 -- later vacated because of NCAA violations.
Tavon Sledge scored 20 points for Iona, which had 19 turnovers that led to 29 of the Buckeyes' points.
Matta had his best moment -- yes, singular -- as a college player at University of Dayton Arena, hitting a game-winning shot for Butler. His visits as Ohio State's coach haven't been so pleasant. The Buckeyes failed to make it out of Dayton intact in their two previous NCAA appearances, going 1-2 overall.
No late drama in this one.
The Gaels used their record-setting 78-72 loss to BYU last year as motivation to return and give a better showing. They were back, but fared no better against a much better team.
Then, it all came apart.
Ohio State turned up the intensity behind Craft, who made a diving save on a loose ball that started an emphatic fast break. The Buckeyes swatted away the Gaels' shots and stormed the rim for dunks during a 15-0 run over the next 4 minutes.
The Gaels were only 4-of-21 with six turnovers while Ohio State extended its lead to 27-8 midway through the opening half. Even when Iona did something impressive, it backfired. Thomas got one of his shots blocked right back to him, then put it up again and got fouled, resulting in a pair of free throws.
The Gaels aren't used to getting roughed up like that. They were second in the nation with 80.7 points per game and 15th nationally with 8.4 3-pointers per game. Ohio State brought their offense to a standstill.
They finally got their fast-break offense going and wiped away most of that 18-point deficit. Sean Armand hit a 3-pointer -- he set a school record for 3s this season -- and a pair of free throws during a 13-3 spurt that cut it to 37-33. Ohio State ended the comeback with the game's most sensational play, Thompson reached behind his body with his right arm to snag Scott's alley-oop pass for a dunk.
"An alley-oop is a great team play," Thompson said. "It shows two guys on the same page offensively. Shannon did such a great job getting into the teeth of the defense, having the defense collapse, and just letting me do the easy part and finishing it.
"It really gives our team a boost offensively and defensively and definitely gives the other team something to think about."
Up 43-33 at halftime, Ohio State went on a nine-point run behind Thomas and Thompson for a 19-point lead that would never be seriously threatened.
POST GAME NOTES:
- This is Iona’s ninth all-time appearance in the NCAA Tournament. They are now 0-9 all-time in the NCAA Tournament. Iona won one game during the 1980 tournament, but it was later vacated.
- This is Iona’s second straight trip to Dayton for the NCAA Tournament. They earned an at-large bid last season and played in the First Four in Dayton. They were topped by BYU 78-72
- Iona is 1-3 all-time at UD Arena.
- Iona is now 1-2 all-time versus Ohio State. Before today, they last played during the 2008-09 season as the Buckeyes won 71-53.
- The Gaels are now 1-8 all-time vs. Big Ten teams. The lone win was against Ohio State in 1981.
- Iona has now lost eight straight versus nationally-ranked opponents. The Buckeyes entered the game ranked No. 7 in the AP poll.
- Iona won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament championship with a 60-57 victory over Manhattan. Iona finished tied for third in the MAAC with an 11-7 conference record.
- The Gaels have won at least 20 games for the fourth consecutive season.
- Iona ranked second in the nation in points per game (80.7). They led the nation in scoring last season.
- Iona ranks fourth in the nation in free throw percentage (77.8%). They shot 18-of-21 (85.7%) against the Buckeyes.
- The Gaels are 22nd in the nation in assists per game (15.5). They had 13 assists against Ohio State.
- Lamont Jones leads the MAAC and is third in the nation in points per game (23.0). He is Iona’s first MAAC scoring champion since Bryan Matthew in 1996-97. He was held to nine points against Ohio State.
- Lamont Jones finished second in school history with 769 points this season. He was 11 points shy of Steve Burtt’s mark of 780, which was set during the 2005-06 campaign.
- Lamont Jones finished his career 1,287 points at Iona, which places him 22nd in school history.
- Lamont Jones leads the nation with a school-record 221 free throws made this season. He made 2-of-2 free throw attempts against the Buckeyes.
- Lamont Jones is also 12th in the NCAA with an 88.7% free throw percentage.
- Lamont Jones finished his career as Iona’s all-time leader in free throw percentage (85.9%)
- Lamont Jones was First Team All-MAAC. Sean Armond was named to the All-MAAC Second Team and David Laury earned Third Team honors.
- Iona averages 8.4 three made per game, which is a school-record.
- Sean Armand has made 112 three-pointers this season, which is a single season Gaels’ record. He made 4-of-12 three pointers vs. Ohio State. His 3.37 made threes per game ranks eighth in the country.
- With tonight’s loss, Iona drops to 35-3 in games decided by more than 10 points since Head Coach Tim Cluess took over in 2010-11.
POST GAME PRESS CONFERENCE
We'll start with an opening statement by Coach, and then we'll open the floor for questions for our student athletes.
I want to give Ohio State credit. We ran into a buzz saw today. They played a great basketball game, great basketball team. We just weren't up to the task today. Our guys played as hard as they could, just didn't have the results we'd like. Give them all credit and wish them luck the rest of the way in the tournament.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student athletes.
Q. Guys, the beginning of the game they just kind of jumped right off, and it was like 27 8 or something like that, and you had to kind of dig out of that hole the whole game. Can you talk about what the start of the game was like for you.
It's like the first game of the season all over again. Everybody's a little excited, trying to do a little bit too much. We just had to get our heads together. We just kept telling each other to chip away at the lead. Fouls didn't go our way, and we are back down 10 at halftime. I would say some jitters and too much excitement, and they spread us out a little bit, and we calmed down for a while.
Q. Momo, yesterday outside the locker room, you said that you thought you guys would be able to handle the defense that Craft and Scott apply on the perimeter. Was Craft maybe better in person than you had seen on tape or no?
I mean, give credit where credit is due. I think he played good defense. I think I took some bad shots. Things just didn't fall tonight. Can't knock the guy. He played some good defense.
Q. Seeing a team like that on tape is one thing, but were they faster, bigger, everything like that when you saw them on the court?
Yeah, definitely. Those guys, they looked like they work out every day. They're a lot more physical than us. They just played hard throughout the whole game. I believe they stuck to their game plan, and just kept doing what they do best, what they did all year.
THE MODERATOR: Lamont, Tavon, and Sean, thank you for your time. Questions for Coach Cluess.
Q. Tim, you said basically yesterday that you'd almost have to play the perfect game against these guys and guys have to stay out of foul trouble and the 3s would have to drop. But a lot of things didn't work out like you'd hoped.
We knew, in order to even be in the game, we'd have to play our best game of the year, and we didn't. We came out not really sharing the ball early on, trying to do too much one on one. We talked about not putting it on the ground against them early, and that's all we did early was put it on the ground. Also, watching film of them, I just thought their transition game was really good, but they didn't use it all the time. I said to our team, if we don't hustle back and they get out in transition, we're not going to be able to match their athleticism down the floor. They did a great job of transitioning, a lot of it off our turnovers unfortunately. If we handled the floor better, that deficit might not have been so big early that we're trying to fight back from.
Q. Tim, you were only down 10 at the half, even after the bad start that you had. But then they opened the second half up with an impressive run that kind of put the game away. I'm sure you told the team at halftime, hey, we're in this thing. What happened after the half?
I thought we came out with a couple of bad shots. We had two wide open shots, one from Sean and one from Momo, that would have kept it right around the 10 point mark, and we didn't make either one of them. I think that deflated us a little bit because here's our two best guys not getting the best looks they had all game long. And the other team was getting shots and getting the rebounds and taking off on us and getting some easy ones. They're jumping above anyone on our team a lot of the plays and finishing a lot of dunks and a lot of things we can't even get up in the air to get near. They're a very, very good team.
Q. Just if you could share what you told the team in the locker room after the game.
I just first, I thanked the seniors for all they've given us and helping us to get to two NCAA Tournaments back to back. And then we thanked the juniors and sophomores and freshmen and talked about what it would take to ever get back here again and to take a look at the other team and think about when they're in the weight room, like meaning our guys, are we working out as hard as they are? Are we working on our game? Are we as fundamentally sound as them? I know we're small and we're going to give things up, but there's good parts of the game where, because of a bad play here or there or didn't get a whistle here or there, that our guys let that carry over a little bit into the next play, so we didn't positionally play right, and we're in one defense and someone ran something else. There was a lot of miscommunication. We talked about it. And basically I thanked my coaching staff and the whole staff of Iona for everything they do for us to give us this opportunity. It was a great experience. We would have liked to play better than we did, but we also know we played a great team.
Q. Coach, did it surprise you at all that they were able to play so effectively at your pace, or did you just expect that from a high quality team?
When I watched their film, I said that to my coaching staff and our players that, if they ever played at our pace, they may just really, really give us a problem because I thought they could run in transition better than we can with the athletes they have, and when they're making shots on top of that, they're really good, and they were doing both tonight, and we were sloppy with the basketball. But a lot of our sloppiness was caused by their good defense and a lot of the physicality they were able to play with. What we were doing, those things would be called all day long, and we didn't get anything called in that direction, so it was a very different game for our guys.
Q. Tim, a question was asked before about tape versus live. What did you think of Craft live in the first half especially?
I thought he's extremely intense and strong on defense. I think he gets away with body blocking you, grabbing you, holding you, but he's in very good position to do that, and he plays great angles. He has a passion to stop people, which most players today don't have. I really told him after the game that he's one heck of a defensive player. Would love to have a guy like that on our team. I think he showed yesterday I'm sorry. Showed a few minutes ago why he's considered one of the best defensive players in the country.
Tim, thank you.
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