Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger (0) looks to pass around...

Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger (0) looks to pass around Cincinnati forward Yancy Gates (34) in the first half. (March 22, 2012) Credit: AP

BOSTON -- It was halftime, and Ohio State was cruising with a 37-25 lead over Cincinnati. Buckeyes forwards Deshaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger already had totaled 30 points to outscore the Bearcats by themselves.

If it all seemed a little too easy, it was. Cincinnati exploded on a 27-11 run to take a 52-48 lead with 11:34 left in the NCAA East Regional semifinal Thursday night at TD Bank Garden. That's when Ohio State coach Thad Matta took advantage of a media timeout to light into his team for its poor play on defense.

The Buckeyes responded with an attitude adjustment that produced a 17-1 run and went on to an 81-66 victory that earned them an Elite Eight date Saturday against Syracuse.

Thomas and Sullinger ultimately totaled 49 points and 18 rebounds, and Ohio State's inside strength was too much.

"We've got two types of basketball teams,'' Sullinger said. "We've got the cool guys and then the blue-collar guys. To start the second half, we got into the 'cool guy' mode, and we kind of let our guard down.

"Coach Matta told us before we started the second half that they were going to come at us with everything they had because Cincinnati is the type of team that does not give up. We came out and decided to be cool guys, and they stung us. Then we got ourselves back into another basketball game.''

The Buckeyes (30-7) did it by committing to a defense that forced 18 turnovers by Cincinnati (26-11) and by pounding the ball inside. That philosophy resulted in Ohio State getting to the foul line 27 times for 19 points compared to a 5-for-8 free-throw effort by the Bearcats.

"We were in a one-and-one situation, so we were just trying to attack the basket and turn down a good shot to get a great shot,'' Sullinger said. "I thought [Aaron] Craft's ability to get to the rim and Deshaun knocking down shots got us going. We knew they were going to double in the post after they doubled Deshaun the first play of the game. We just read their defense really well tonight.''

Thomas scored 20 of his 26 points in the first half and added seven rebounds, and Sullinger had 23 points and 11 boards. The Buckeyes got 15 points from Lenzell Smith and 11 from Craft, who had five assists and six of Ohio State's 13 steals. Kashmere Wright led Cincinnati with 18 points before fouling out. Sean Kilpatrick had 15 and JaQuon Parker 10. Yancy Gates was held to seven points and five rebounds in his matchup with Sullinger.

The meeting of two Ohio schools with great basketball traditions was only the second in 50 years since the Bearcats defeated the Buckeyes in consecutive NCAA title games in 1961 and '62. Since then, the only meeting was a made-for-TV neutral-site game won by OSU in 2006.

It looked for a while as though Cincinnati was going to turn back the clock to embarrass the big school from up the road, but once Matta burned the "cool guys'' in that critical timeout, momentum shifted. "I might have had a little to do with it in the timeout,'' he said. "To these guys' credit, they did a good job playing themselves out of it and really got reconnected out there.''

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