Boston, MA (Sports Network) - Ohio State withstood Cincinnati's comeback bid and took over down the stretch to avoid another loss in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, as the Buckeyes pulled out an 81-66 victory in the East Region semifinals.
Deshaun Thomas scored 20 of his 26 points in the first half to give the second-seeded Buckeyes a 12-point lead at the break, but Cincinnati erased the deficit after making several adjustments at halftime.
The run, however, apparently took too much out of the sixth-seeded Bearcats, who were outscored 33-14 over the final 11-plus minutes to fall short.
Jared Sullinger totaled 23 points and 11 rebounds for Ohio State (30-7), which had lost in the regional semifinals the previous two years.
A date against another Big East opponent is on the horizon with a trip to the Final Four on the line, as top-seeded Syracuse escaped fourth-seeded Wisconsin in the lead-up to Thursday's nightcap at TD Garden.
"It feels good to be in the Elite Eight, but we still have one more game on our schedule, and we have to focus on that. Hopefully the train doesn't stop here," Sullinger said.
Cashmere Wright hit four of the Bearcats' (26-11) nine three-pointers, finishing with a team-high 18 points.
"We accomplished what a lot of people didn't expect us to accomplish, so [I] can't be prouder [of] my team," Wright said.
Cincinnati, playing in its first regional semifinal since 2001, had nine turnovers in the first half, but appeared to turn things around by eclipsing its first-half point total just 8 1/2 minutes into the second stanza.
The swing resulted in a 52-48 lead for the underdogs before the Buckeyes had the final say by holding the Bearcats without a field goal for nearly seven minutes.
During the subsequent 17-1 run, Sullinger totaled five points and ended it with a deft pass to Lenzelle Smith Jr. for an easy bucket underneath and a jumper the next time down for a 65-53 cushion.
"They came out and stung us to start the second half, and we had to take some timeouts there to kind of refocus what we were doing on the defensive end. And once we got that going, I thought it generated some offense for us," OSU head coach Thad Matta said.
Sean Kilpatrick stopped the flurry with a three-pointer, but that was as close as Cincinnati got in the final five minutes.
"We gave ourselves no chance to win," Bearcats head coach Mick Cronin said "They're hard enough to guard, but with 18 turnovers we just gave ourselves no chance."
Thomas highlighted OSU's first half, as two of his three-pointers sparked an 8-0 run that gave the Buckeyes a 35-22 lead with two minutes left before the break.
The margin was 37-25 at halftime, and the intermission gave the Bearcats time to regroup, as evident by their 21-6 run over the next six-plus minutes.
Kilpatrick made two three-pointers during the stretch, and Wright's trey gave Cincinnati its first lead, 44-43, since its was up, 7-6.
The Buckeyes are seeking their 10th Final Four appearance...Ohio State's William Buford shot 1-for-8 and ended with four points, 11 below his season average...Smith and Aaron Craft picked up the scoring slack with 15 and 11 points, respectively...Craft also had six steals and five assists...Thomas netted a combined 49 points in OSU's first two tourney games against Loyola- Maryland and Gonzaga...Kilpatrick finished with 15 points, while Jaquon Parker had 10 for Cincinnati...The Bearcats defeated the Buckeyes in the 1961 and '62 NCAA title games...Cincinnati got through Texas and ACC Tournament champ Florida State to reach Boston.