D’Angelo Russell scored 28 points and rallied Ohio State from an early 12-point deficit as the 10th-seeded Buckeyes beat seventh-seeded Virginia Commonwealth, 75-72, in overtime in a thrilling NCAA tournament opener Thursday.
Russell regrouped from a blow that sent blood streaming down the left side of his face near the end of regulation, showing just why many believe he will be a top pick in this summer’s NBA draft. He made 10 of 20 shots, including four of seven from 3-point range, and added six rebounds, two steals and two blocks to bring the Buckeyes (24-10) back in both halves and overtime.
Amir Williams added 13 points, and Jae’Sean Tate scored 12 points to help Ohio State avoid a second straight one-and-done showing in the tournament. The Buckeyes will face second-seeded Arizona on Saturday
The Atlantic 10 champion Rams (26-10) lost another heartbreaker in the first round as Coach Shaka Smart’s team struggled to consistently create the “havoc” that carried them to an improbable 2011 Final Four run.
Ohio State outshot VCU 49 percent to 38 percent from the field, but the Rams outrebounded the Buckeyes 37-32 behind Treveon Graham’s 10 rebounds and Mo Alie-Cox’s seven to stay close.
But they never could reel in Russell.
He broke free for a tying layup to stabilize Ohio State at the start of overtime. Kieta Bates-Diop added a 3-pointer, and Scott followed with a layup that gave the Buckeyes a 73-70 lead.
Graham missed a 3-pointer in the final seconds before Russell hit two free throws to seal Ohio State’s victory.
Russell closed the first half with a flurry and got the Buckeyes off to a fast start after the break. The speedy left-hander zigged and zagged through VCU’s full-court press, and his 3-pointer put Ohio State ahead 45-39. Doug Brooks came back with three consecutive 3s for the Rams, who built a 52-47 lead that didn’t last long.
A few minutes later, blood streamed down the left side of Russell’s face after he absorbed a blow from Brooks above his eye with about 5 minutes to play in regulation. Trainers cleaned up the wound with a bandage on the bench — the only time all game Russell rested. Officials reviewed the play and called a flagrant foul on Brooks.
But the Rams never folded.
They kept applying the pressure on defense, and Johnson hit consecutive threes to put VCU up, 66-64, before Williams’ tying dunk. Both teams had chances to win in the final minute of regulation as Scott missed a difficult runner for Ohio State and Graham’s well-guarded layup rimmed out for VCU.
It was a tough finish for Smart’s squad. They were upset by Stephen F. Austin in their tournament opener last season, and now end what had been an emotional March earlier than they hoped.
VCU had dedicated its postseason run to leader Briante Weber, who suffered a season-ending right knee injury in a loss to Richmond on Jan. 31. Even without the face of that havoc-causing defense, the Rams got hot in the Atlantic 10 Tournament and beat Dayton in the title game for the conference’s automatic berth.
Despite his right leg being immobilized, Weber hobbled around the sideline shouting instructions and words of encouragement to teammates. He sat in the seat closest to center court and right behind Smart, who often stood, clapped and bent his knees trying to motivate his players.
In the end, it was not the scene they wanted.
Weber cried in a towel as Smart and teammate Jarred Guest consoled him following the final buzzer. He limped off the court to cheers from fans.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes are 49-25 in the NCAA Tournament, including 18-8 under coach Thad Matta. … It’s the first time Ohio State won a tournament game since 2013, when they lost to Wichita State in the regional finals.
VCU: The Rams are 12-14 in the tournament, including 7-5 under Smart. … VCU is 8-1 against teams from Ohio.
Ohio State: Faces No. 2 seed Arizona.
VCU: Season over.