Defense dominates in NCAA tournament games at Bridgestone

Monday, March 19, 2012 at 1:03am

Take two.

The familiar phrase had multiple meanings in the NCAA tournament games played at Bridgestone Arena on Friday and Sunday.

It was a given that the Sweet 16 was going to take two of the teams that came to town and slugged it out for six contests. As it turned out, Ohio University and Cincinnati were those teams.

For those who missed the Bobcats’ 62-56 victory over South Florida in Sunday’s opener, the Bearcats staged a virtual repeat – they would say ‘Take two’ on a movie set –when they defeated Florida State by the exact same score in the final contest of the round of 32.

Then there was the fact that all of the teams all six teams were happy to take two (as in points) any way they could get them throughout the weekend.

The one constant was defense. In winning on Friday, all four held their opponents to less than 41 percent shooting from the field. Things were no different two days later.

Cincinnati, the No. 6 seed in the East, limited No. 3Florida State 38 percent shooting, but just as importantly forced 17 turnovers that turned into 19 points.

Most notably, the Seminoles turned it over twice in a span of 42 seconds after the score was tied 50-50. Dion Dixon turned the first of those two into a dunk that put Cincinnati ahead to stay.

“They’re a tremendous ‘strip’ team,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “…Cincinnati did a great job with their quickness and speed and their ability to get deflections and steals. As I look back at the game, that’s probably what did us in.”

Sean Kilpatrick led the Bearcats with a game-high 18 points, and Dixon added 15 with three steals. Cashmere Wright had five steals – as many as the entire Florida State.

Luke Loucks led FSU with 14 points.

“I really felt like we beat a team that could win the national championship,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “… That was as hard as we’ve had to work on the offensive end all year.”

Ohio, the No. 13 seed in the Midwest Region, allowed 12th-seeded South Florida to make 43.5 percent of its shots overall but locked down things on the perimeter.

The Bulls made just two of 15 3-point attempts (13.3 percent), although the second, by Toarlyn Fitzptrick, got them within three, 59-56, with 53 seconds remaining. They failed to score the rest of the way.

Their point total was the lowest of the day and tied for the second-lowest in the 16 third-round games. Florida State, of course, matched it a short time later.

“My hat is off to our guys that, you know, played with such an extraordinary toughness,” Groce said. “I thought we were able to impose our will late in the game at both ends and kind of break away. At the end of the day, that was the difference in the game.”

The game started as an alternating defensive struggle. The Bobcats scored the first five points, gave up the next six and then scored seven in a row. South Florida made a significant stand after that with a 10-0 run that lasted 7:46.

Ohio finally tightened up for good in the second half when it delivered a 10-0 run of its own. This one ended with just over three minutes remaining and transformed a two-point deficit into an eight-point advantage, which was too much for South Florida to overcome.

“I think the last two games are prime examples of why we hang our ht on defense,” forward Nick Kellogg said. “Because, you know, sometimes shots aren’t falling, [you’re] not rebounding well. We can always go back to getting stops.”

Walter Offutt was a perfect 4-for-4 on 3-pointers and scored a game-high 21 points for the Bobcats, who made half (nine of 18) of their 3-point attempts. D.J. Cooper added 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

Victor Rudd Jr. and Anthony Collins had a team-high 13 apiece for South Florida.

“They have a system that their kids have bought into,” South Florida coach Stan Heath said. “They’re resilient. We went up, I think, six points, and I thought they might rattle a little bit and they didn’t.

“It’s a very very good basketball team … Who knows? You never know in this tournament what can happen.”

When it came to these games, though, it was a sure thing that there would be plenty of defense.