BOSTON — Get ready for another Big East vs. Big Ten matchup in the NCAA East regional.
So far the conferences are tied at one victory apiece.
But the ways the winners got to Saturday night’s game with a berth in the Final Four at stake were very different Thursday night.
Top-seeded Syracuse edged Wisconsin 64-63 when the Badgers had the ball for the final 18 seconds but couldn’t score. Then second-seeded Ohio State dominated Cincinnati 81-66 in the other semifinal as Jared Sullinger and DeShaun Thomas combined for 49 points and 19 rebounds.
It shouldn’t be that easy for the Buckeyes against Syracuse’s zone defense, which stymied Wisconsin inside.
“I know we’re going to face a 2-3 zone. There’s no hiding that,” Sullinger said. “We’re going to have to try to control the tempo and also we’re going to have to score and execute our offense even though they’re playing 2-3 zone. We can’t just sit back and let them punch us. We’ve got to throw the first punches. Not literally, but …”
Syracuse (34-2) will be facing an opponent with more offensive ability than Wisconsin, which likes to slow the ball down. That nearly worked — along with outstanding 3-point shooting — for the Badgers (26-10).
They made 14 of 27 shots from 3-point range.
“I don’t think anybody’s ever made 14 3s against us and we beat them,” Orange coach Jim Boeheim said. “That’s a lot of 3s to overcome.”
But Syracuse shot 55 percent from the field, well above the 38.5 percent Wisconsin gave up this season, and the Orange were 5 of 9 from 3-point range, much better than the 28.8 percent the Badgers allowed.
“Syracuse just has too many athletes that can do so many things, and it’s hard to prepare for that on the defensive end. You think you’re getting things done, but you’re a step behind,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “So we did the best we could, and I thought we played great defense. Not everybody on the court agreed with that, but I thought we played unbelievable defense for the most part.”
They even had trouble controlling C.J. Fair. He scored 15 points for Syracuse after totaling just 20 in his previous six games.
“It was a nail-biter,” Fair said, “but we made some plays down the stretch and got a couple of stops.”
Syracuse had the win when Jordan Taylor missed a 3-pointer with 3 seconds left and Josh Gasser’s toss after getting the rebound was off the mark at the buzzer.
“It was on line, and I felt like I got my legs into it,” Taylor said. “I knew it was a deep 3, but it felt good, and then to see it kind of come up short was kind of heartbreaking.”
Taylor and Jared Berggren led Wisconsin with 17 points each.
There was far less drama in the second semifinal, which Ohio State (30-7) led 37-25 at halftime.
“Our intensity level wasn’t where it needs to be for us to have success.” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “We were too conservative defensively.”
But the Bearcats (26-11) outscored their in-state rivals 27-11 in the first 8½ minutes of the second half and led 52-48. Then they fell apart, committing seven turnovers the rest of the way.
The Buckeyes went on a 17-1 run to take a 65-53 lead with just under six minutes remaining and never were threatened again.
Thomas had 26 points, Sullinger 23 and Aaron Craft 11, all in the second half.
“The game plan was never to let them get some consecutive scores,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “When we did that, they had the momentum going on their side, and we weren’t able to control it. It affected us a little bit offensively, as well. We had some costly turnovers there.”
Not as costly as Cincinnati’s.
The Bearcats began the night averaging 10.7 turnovers per game, 15th fewest in the nation, but committed 18 against Ohio State.
“We got down early, made a tremendous comeback,” Cronin said. “At the end of the day, we didn’t take care of the basketball. … With 18 turnovers, we really just gave ourselves no chance.”
Cincinnati was led by Cashmere Wright with 18 points and Sean Kilpatrick with 15.
The Buckeyes led by five when Thomas hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Ohio State scored 10 of the last 13 points in the half to open a 37-25 lead. But Cincinnati opened the second half with a run of its own, tying it 41-all on JaQuon Parker’s baby hook in the lane.
The Bearcats led 52-48 on Gates’ three-point play with 11:34 left, but Ohio State responded by scoring 17 of the next 18 points to put it away.
Now the Buckeyes face a tougher Big East opponent.
“We stay right there level-headed. We believe in each other,” Syracuse guard Scoop Jardine said. “When you’ve got a team like that, no matter what, we’re capable of winning games no matter who we’re playing against or what the circumstances are in every game.”