Final Score: Kentucky 62, Ohio State 60
Newark, NJ (Sports Network) - Brandon Knight hit his second game-winner of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, draining a mid-range jumper with 5.4 seconds remaining to lift fourth-seeded Kentucky to a 62-60 victory over top-seeded Ohio State in a seesaw thriller in the East Regional semifinals.
Ohio State sharpshooter Jon Diebler hit a long straightaway three-pointer to tie the game, 60-60, with 23 ticks showing. Kentucky opted not to call a timeout and instead let Knight go to work.
The freshman, who beat Princeton with a runner in the second round and dropped in 30 points against West Virginia two days later, dribbled away from a pick at the top of the key, rose up from 18 feet along the right wing and hit nothing but net.
"Instead of going off, I felt [Ohio State guard Aaron Craft] gave me a lane to go right, so I just went right. And he jumped in front of me, so I pulled up, and thank God it went in," recalled Knight.
The Buckeyes rushed the ball up the court and got a shot off, but William Buford's contested three hit off the front of the rim, sending the top overall seed in the tourney home and the Wildcats into the Elite Eight for the second straight year.
On Sunday, Kentucky will play another of college basketball's preeminent programs in North Carolina, which crushed Marquette, 81-63, in Friday's other East semi at Prudential Center.
Josh Harrellson more than held his own against Jared Sullinger, a Naismith Player of the Year finalist, scoring a team-high 17 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and recording three of Kentucky's 11 blocks.
DeAndre Liggins added 15 points for the SEC Tournament champion Wildcats (28-8), winners of nine straight.
"Our veteran players who were not significant a year ago, who have now taken on this team, that's why we're still playing. It's because of those guys," Kentucky head coach John Calipari said of his upperclassmen.
Sullinger finished with 21 points and 16 rebounds and Diebler chipped in 16 points, but the Buckeyes (34-3) shot a mere 33 percent from the floor to fall for the first time in six tourney meetings with Kentucky.
Ohio State rolled through the Big Ten in the regular season and in the conference tournament, but never looked comfortable in its halfcourt offense against the athletic Wildcats, often going several minutes at a time without hitting a field goal.
Nevertheless, Kentucky never held a lead larger than three points in a tightly-played second half, doing so when Knight's three-pointer broke a 53-53 tie with 5:17 remaining.
Sullinger and David Lighty each put in buckets to give Ohio State the lead, but Liggins drew a foul on Sullinger and drained both free throws for a 58-57 edge with 1:36 showing.
Harrellson then forced Sullinger into a tough shot along the baseline that fell short, and Liggins brought on contact again near the left block. The whistles stayed silent this time, and the junior banked one in for a three- point lead.
The Buckeyes called timeout with 34.8 seconds on the clock, and a frenetic possession ended with Diebler hitting his fourth three to tie the game, leading to the memorable finish.
There were seven lead changes in a back-and-forth first half, and Ohio State was fortunate to find itself tied, 30-30, at the break after failing to make a field goal over the final 5 1/2 minutes.
The Buckeyes got to the free throw line 15 times and made 12 to keep pace.
"I think the accumulation of some of the open ones we missed got to us and we may have pressed a little bit," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. "We were trying to get the ball down low obviously, and they did a good job of kind of faking, staying at home, and getting back and challenging the shots."
With Harrellson on the bench midway through the second half, Sullinger put in a pair of buckets to end a near five-minute stretch without a field goal and give the Buckeyes a 47-46 edge.
That was just one of 12 lead changes in an entertaining second half that saw neither team lead by more than four points.
Kentucky's 104 NCAA Tournament wins trails only North Carolina by one...Ohio State had a nine-game winning streak snapped, which included tourney wins over Texas-San Antonio and George Mason by a combined 61 points...Calipari has made seven Elite Eight appearances, including last year before losing to West Virginia...UK is 14-1 in NCAA Tournament games in the New York City metro area...Knight, who broke John Wall's freshman scoring record at Kentucky, finished with nine points on 3-of-10 shooting...Kentucky shot 46 percent from the field and 12-of-14 from the foul line...Lighty ended with 12 points for the Buckeyes..It's the first time since 2000 only one No. 1 seed -- Kansas -- has reached the Elite Eight.