A Look Back at Ohio State's Five Upset Wins As a Lower Seed in the NCAA Tournament

By Dan Hope on March 19, 2019 at 1:05 pm
D'Angelo Russell

Ohio State will be looking for its biggest NCAA Tournament upset ever when it plays Iowa State in the first round of the Big Dance on Friday night in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The Buckeyes are the No. 11 seed in the tournament’s Midwest Regional, marking the first time Ohio State has ever been lower than a 10 seed and just the second time Ohio State has ever been a double-digit seed since the NCAA Tournament began seeding teams in 1979.

Because most of the double-digit seeds are reserved for mid-major teams, most of Ohio State’s NCAA Tournament berths have come as an upper seed – and as a result, the vast majority of its NCAA Tournament wins have come as the higher-seeded team. Of the Buckeyes’ 35 tournament wins since 1979, Ohio State’s seed has either been better than or equal to its opponent in 30 of those victories.

This year, however, the Buckeyes will be looking to turn the tables and defeat the No. 6-seeded Cyclones in what would be one of the most unexpected NCAA Tournament wins in Ohio State history. (The Buckeyes were 5.5-point underdogs for Friday’s game as of Tuesday afternoon, according to Vegas Insider.)

Ohio State has never previously won a game in the NCAA Tournament against a team that was seeded more than three lines higher, but the upset wouldn’t be totally unprecedented, as the Buckeyes have scored five upsets against teams with better seeds in the NCAA Tournament – including two in the past seven years.

We take a look back at those five upset wins now.

2015: #10 Ohio State 75, #7 VCU 72 (OT)

Ohio State’s only previous double-digit seed before this year came in 2015, when the Buckeyes were a No. 10 seed, and they scored a first-round upset.

It didn’t come easily, as the Buckeyes trailed No. 7 seed VCU for nearly all of regulation. But a dunk by Amir Williams tied the score, 66-66, with 1:17 to play in the second half, and no one scored again before the clock hit zeros, sending the game to overtime.

The Buckeyes went on a 9-2 run over a four-minute span in overtime to defeat the Rams for a 75-72 win. Star freshman D’Angelo Russell, who made the victory-sealing free throws with just four seconds left to play, led the Buckeyes with 28 points in what would be his only NCAA Tournament victory.

Ohio State’s luck ran out in the second round of the tournament, when the Buckeyes suffered a 73-58 loss to No. 2 seed Arizona.

2012: #2 Ohio State 77, #1 Syracuse 70

Ohio State was among the frontrunners to make a run to the Final Four in 2012, with a lineup led by All-American big man Jared Sullinger, but the Buckeyes still had to upset a No. 1 seed to get there.

Syracuse had lost just two games all year going into the Elite Eight matchup between the two top teams in the East Regional, and many of its fans made the trip to Boston to create a home-court advantage. But in a game that was tied at halftime, Ohio State controlled the second half to ultimately win by seven, punching its ticket to the Final Four.

Four Buckeyes scored in double figures – Sullinger (19), Lenzelle Smith Jr. (18), Deshaun Thomas (14), William Buford (13) – while Thomas and Buford each grabbed nine rebounds.

Ohio State lost to fellow No. 2 seed Kansas, who went on to lose the national championship game to Kentucky, in the Final Four semifinals.

1999: #4 Ohio State 72, #1 Auburn 64
#4 Ohio State 77, #3 St. John’s 74

Ohio State’s most improbable run to the Final Four came in 1999, when the fourth-seeded Buckeyes pulled off back-to-back upsets in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight to win the South Regional.

After making easy work of No. 13 seed Murray State and No. 12 seed Detroit in the first two rounds, the Buckeyes knocked off the No. 1 seed in the South with an eight-point win over Auburn. Scoonie Penn anchored a late 9-0 run that flipped the contest in Ohio State’s favor, and finished with a game-high 26 points, while Michael Redd added 22 for the Buckeyes.

The Buckeyes clinched their Final Four berth with a three-point win over No. 3 seed St. John’s in the Elite Eight. Ohio State never trailed in the game, but had to stave off a late run from the Red Storm in a game that the Buckeyes led by as many as 13 points. Penn led the Buckeyes once again with 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, while Redd added 20 points, six rebounds and five assists.

Ohio State’s run to the Final Four, which ended with a 64-58 loss to No. 1 seed UConn in the national semifinals, is no longer officially recognized by the NCAA due to sanctions against the program. But it’s still remembered by Ohio State fans as one of the Buckeyes’ most spectacular NCAA Tournament performances.

1987: #9 Ohio State 91, #8 Kentucky 77

Before 2015, Ohio State’s only previous first-round game as the lower seed came in 1987, when the Buckeyes faced Kentucky in an 8-9 matchup in Atlanta.

Despite being the slightly lesser seed, Ohio State took a 42-40 lead into halftime before pulling away to a 14-point victory in the second half. Dennis Hopson led the way for the Buckeyes, scoring 32 points, and all five Ohio State starters reached double figures; Curtis Wilson scored 19 points, Jerry Francis scored 15 points, Jay Burson scored 11 points and John Anderson scored 10.

Ohio State’s 1987 tournament run came to an end in the second round, where a valiant effort from the Buckeyes fell short in an 82-79 loss to No. 1 seed Georgetown.

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