Deshaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger of the Ohio State Buckeyes...

Deshaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger of the Ohio State Buckeyes react after a play against the Loyola Greyhounds during the second round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. (March 15, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

PITTSBURGH -- Ohio State instantly became a very popular pick to win the NCAA East Regional after the news Tuesday that Syracuse center Fab Melo would miss the tournament.

That was reflected in the 6.45 million brackets submitted to, in which Ohio State was named by more people than any other team to reach the Final Four out of the East.

All the Buckeyes have to do now is take advantage on the court. They began Thursday night with an emphatic statement, beating Loyola (Md.), 78-59. No. 2 seed Ohio State (28-7) led by 15 in the first half and 42-31 at halftime over Loyola (24-9), the No. 15 seed.

Ohio State will face Gonzaga Saturday.

The Greyhounds were unable to match Ohio State's inside bulk, with the Buckeyes getting 26 points and 12 rebounds before intermission from forwards Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas.

The mismatch in size and strength contributed to Loyola's 14 first-half fouls, four on 6-10 forward Shane Walker.

Loyola never seriously threatened in the second half, falling behind by 20. But after Thad Matta appeared to have sent Sullinger and Thomas to the bench for good, he put them back in with 2:18 left after Loyola got within 70-59.

The Greyhounds never were able to control Thomas, who had 31 points, shot 13-for-22 and had 12 rebounds. Sullinger scored 12 points, all in the first half, and grabbed 10 rebounds.


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