VCU ousted from NCAA Tournament with 75-72 overtime loss to Ohio State in opener



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PORTLAND, Oregon — The scene was not the one that VCU wanted.

Injured leader Briante Weber cried into a towel as coach Shaka Smart and teammate Jarred Guest consoled the senior guard following the final buzzer. Weber limped off the court in crutches, receiving cheers from fans, and the Rams headed into an earlier-than-expected offseason.

VCU wasted an early 12-point lead and struggled to stop D'Angelo Russell, and the seventh-seeded Rams lost 75-72 in overtime to 10th-seeded Ohio State in their NCAA Tournament opener Thursday.

"Really, really tough loss for us," Smart said.

Indeed, it was another heartbreaking NCAA Tournament loss for the Atlantic 10 champion Rams (26-10). VCU was upset by Stephen F. Austin in its opener last season.

Once again, Smart's squad struggled to consistently create the "havoc" that carried the school to an improbable 2011 Final Four run. At times, VCU even abandoned its full-court defense as Russell and Shannon Scott weaved through it at will.

Ohio State, which mixed in a zone defense, outshot VCU 49 percent to 38 percent. The Rams outrebounded the Buckeyes 37-32 behind Treveon Graham's 10 boards and Mo Alie-Cox's seven, helping them stay close.

But they never could reel in Russell late.

Russell regrouped from an elbow that sent blood streaming down the left side of his face near the end of regulation. He finished with 28 points, showing why he likely will be a top pick in this summer's NBA draft.

The quick and crafty left-hander made 10 of 20 shots, including 4 of 7 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.

"He's a good player. He just stayed aggressive and took his team to victory," said VCU's JeQuan Lewis, who scored 11.

Amir Williams added 13 points, Jae'Sean Tate scored 12 and Shannon Scott had 10 assists to help Ohio State avoid a second straight one-and-done showing in the tournament. The Buckeyes will face second-seeded Arizona on Saturday.

Russell broke free for a tying layup at the start of overtime. Keita Bates-Diop added a big 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.

"I watched this (tournament) my whole life. Just knowing that a lot of great teams go down, a lot of underdogs achieve, just with the mentality that anything can happen," Russell said.

Russell closed the first half with a flurry and got the Buckeyes off to a fast start after the break. Late in regulation, the freshman sensation got a gash above his left eye after he absorbed an elbow from Doug Brooks trying to block a layup.

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, who led VCU with 14 points. The Rams disagreed with the call. Russell couldn't say for sure.

"I had no clue that it was a flagrant or whatnot," Russell said. "I just tried to contest it. Five minutes later, I was shooting free throws for a flagrant."

But the Rams never folded.

Melvin Johnson hit consecutive 3s 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.

The Rams had dedicated their postseason run to Weber, their emotional leader who suffered a season-ending right knee injury in a loss to Richmond on Jan. 31. 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, Weber was the one who had to lean on his coach and teammates.

TIP-INS

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 it lost to Wichita State in the regional finals.

VCU: The Rams are 12-14 in the tournament, including 7-5 under Smart. ... VCU dropped to 8-1 against teams from Ohio.

UP NEXT

Ohio State: Faces No. 2 seed Arizona.

VCU: Season over.

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