Dec. 31, 2005
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - There's something about big games and last-minute shots that seem to bring out the best in Matt Sylvester.
It was the Ohio State swingman who made the 3-pointer that dashed No. 1 Illinois' unbeaten season last March.
Hitting just 31 percent of his shots from the field this season, Sylvester hit another big 3 with 5.5 seconds left Saturday to cap a furious comeback and keep the 21st-ranked Buckeyes undefeated with a 78-76 victory over LSU.
"I don't know what I was thinking - my mind was pretty much blank, hoping that I'd make the shot," Sylvester said. "But when I let that one go, I felt pretty good about it."
Ohio State (10-0) trailed by 15 points with just over 5 1/2 minutes left and was down by 10 with 2 1/2 minutes remaining before making every big play imaginable - and scoring the final 12 points - down the stretch.
"What a game!" Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "I'm still a little bit numb."
Terence Dials led the Buckeyes with 24 points, Sylvester and Ron Lewis each added 14 and Je'Kel Foster had 12.
"We never gave up," Lewis said. "The whole thing, the whole time, we were saying we couldn't give up, that we had to stay together. We knew we could get a victory if we put our minds to it."
LSU (7-4), rattled near the end with a lineup dominated by freshmen, was led by Glen "Big Baby" Davis' 25 points. Darrel Mitchell added 16, Tyrus Thomas had 14 points, 11 rebounds and five blocked shots and Tasmin Mitchell had 12 points.
"It's not Christmas, it's New Year's," LSU coach John Brady said. "But maybe we gave them a game."
Davis' basket off a backdoor lob pass with 3:23 left gave the Tigers a 76-66 lead. But that was the final points for an LSU team that had three freshmen in the starting lineup and six among its top nine players.
Foster hit a 3-pointer from the right wing with 2:25 left and, after a miss by Davis, Sylvester's 3-pointer bounced around the rim before falling with 1:44 remaining, cutting the lead to 76-72.
Ohio State coach Thad Matta shouts instructions to his team during the second half of their 78-76 win over LSU. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
After a timeout, the Tigers tried to regroup but Thomas' off-balance driving layup missed and the ball ended up going out of bounds off an Ohio State player with 36 seconds left. LSU inbounded again and guard Ben Voogd patiently dribbled out front. He passed quickly to Davis, whose hurried air ball from 18 feet resulted in a shot-clock violation with 22 seconds left.
Ohio State called a timeout and then tried to work the ball inside to Dials, but Foster ended up sandwiched between two defenders at the free throw line. The ball popped loose for an instant and he regained it, awkwardly tossing a pass to Sylvester who was unguarded in the left corner.
"I knew Syl was open, and I was hoping to get him the ball," Foster said. "They were doing a great job with their defense."
Sylvester set his feet, took his time and hit nothing but net on the 3-pointer as a crowd of 16,136 erupted.
Sylvester, whose 3-pointer with 5.1 seconds left beat Illinois in the final regular-season game last March, said a classmate in a badminton class gave him a string of beads before the game. The classmate promised him they would turn around his shooting woes.
"He gave me the beads and I shoved them in my sock. I had them there the whole game," Sylvester said. "Now I'll have to take him out for a steak dinner or something."
The teams traded timeouts before Voogd brought the ball up the court and passed to Davis, whose 20-footer with a second left was off the mark, Thomas failing to tip it in as the buzzer sounded.
The game was a perfect follow-up to the last meeting between the teams. LSU beat the Buckeyes 113-101 in double overtime on Jan. 15, 2005. Eleven players scored in double figures, and the Tigers outrebounded the Buckeyes - who hit a school-record 18 3-pointers - by 20.
LSU, leading the nation in rebounding margin, backed up that statistic with a 35-29 advantage on Saturday, its young and talented front line dominating beneath the baskets except for when Dials was making one-on-one moves.
"It felt like it was 105-29," Matta said of the rebounding differential.
The Tigers led by 13 points in the first half only to have the Buckeyes cut it to 43-39 at halftime.
Ohio State came in as one of only nine unbeatens left in Division I, the first time it had opened 9-0 since the 1990-91 team won its first 17 games.
"I think we kind of quit playing to win and (started) playing not to lose," Brady said. "We had it going. We just didn't finish it off. It's a game we let go."