DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — 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 either Notre Dame or 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.
The Gaels got the game’s first lead, pulling ahead 4-0 on baskets by Taaj Ridley and David Laury. Ohio State led only 7-6 heading into the first timeout.
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.
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