Ohio State forward LaQuinton Ross (10) celebrates with teammates after… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
A day before LaQuinton Ross leaped, splayed his legs and downed Arizona with a decisive three-pointer Thursday, the 6-foot-8 Ohio State forward randomly won the locker-room lottery.
He walked into the Lakers' locker room at Staples Center — his team's temporary digs in the NCAA tournament — and staked a claim to a corner locker that normally belongs to another clutch shooter.
"I found out from one of the guys who worked here it was Kobe Bryant's locker," Ross said after the Buckeyes' 73-70 victory. "Before we got here, I'd called dibs on it anyway. But I didn't know whose it was until he told me. I was excited about that."
BOX SCORE: Ohio State 73, Indiana 70
Turns out, that prime real estate was the ideal spot for Ross, who took advantage of a defensive mistake and drained the tiebreaking three with 2.1 seconds to play. To his immediate left, the Buckeyes bench erupted as did a robust section of Ohio State fans, who watched their team collect its 11th victory in a row.
Said teammate Lenzelle Smith Jr.: "I was so confident, I was almost walking to the locker room when the ball went up. I knew it was going to go in."
The Buckeyes, who clinched the victory by stealing Arizona's long inbounds pass, have won two consecutive tournament games with three-pointers at the end.
On the winning shot, Ross got the kick-out pass from guard Aaron Craft, who four days earlier knocked out Iowa State with a winning three.
Instead of getting a defender on Ross, the Wildcats made the mistake of double-teaming Craft on his drive to the basket. That left Ross alone for a glimmer of an instant, all he needed.
Lamented Arizona Coach Sean Miller: "Part of the reason they had such a great look at the end there was two guys went with the ball, when, in reality, we've switched every single handoff and ball screen from the opening tip to that one right there."
The Wildcats had their chances. They built an 11-point lead in the first half before going cold. Counting the end of the first half and the start of the second, they went more than seven minutes without a basket. That allowed Ohio State not only to catch up, but build a double-digit lead of its own.
"They came out in the second half with a bang," Arizona swingman Kevin Parrom said. "We weren't expecting that, but maybe we should have during this tournament."
The Wildcats did themselves no favors in the second half by missing nine of 10 three-point shots. But, cheered on by a crowd that made Staples Center sound like an Arizona home game, the Wildcats battled back behind the play of guard Mark Lyons (23 points) and Solomon Hill (16).
With 21 seconds remaining, Lyons powered in for a layup, drawing a foul and hitting the free throw to forge a 70-70 tie, the only deadlock of the second half.
"We were thinking," Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski said, "'We got this. It's tied up. We're on a little run and we just got to get a stop and we'll be fine….'"
It was Ross who fouled Lyons on that play, allowing the Wildcats to tie.
"When I got the foul, I was kind of upset," Ross said. "My players grabbed me and told me to calm down and worry about the next play. I was able to go down, able to run the play and execute."
The way teammate Deshaun Thomas sees it, that was typical of the Buckeyes.
"Toughness," said Thomas, who led his team with 20 points. "We don't give up. We show heart. We stand together as a team and we fight."
That's something their opponents respect. After the game, Lyons and Ross hugged on the court, exchanged a few words, then smiled.
"I knew him from camp this summer," Lyons explained. "So he's like a friend of mine. At the end of the game, I just told him, 'I can't stand you,' and laughed at him. He's a good guy."
Ross, hero for a night, walked off the court, up the tunnel, and back to a locker that felt a little more like home.