PITTSBURGH — Kevin Pangos caught the ball in the corner and let it fly. The unflappable Gonzaga freshman guard watched the arc and figured the Bulldogs had just tied Ohio State with 90 seconds to go.
"I thought it was good for sure," Pangos said.
The ball hit the rim once. It hit the rim twice. For a fleeting second it appeared ready to drop and put Ohio State in danger of becoming the third No. 2 seed to get knocked out of the NCAA tournament on the first weekend.
Not this time. The ball fluttered off the rim and into the hands of Ohio State's William Buford. Jared Sullinger delivered his second baby hook in a span of 2 minutes and the Buckeyes escaped with a 73-66 victory Saturday.
For the 14th straight season, the Bulldogs played deep into March. For the 14th straight season the program that made being "mid-major" cool is heading back to eastern Washington before the Final Four.
Disappointing? Absolutely. Disheartening? Not really. Not after Gonzaga (26-7) took the Buckeyes to the limit.
"We went toe-to-toe with a really good team," coach Mark Few said. "Wouldn't surprise me if they are cutting down the nets in New Orleans. They're right at that level with some of those other good teams like Syracuse and Kentucky."
It's a level Gonzaga has been on the edge of reaching for years. The Bulldogs entered the game with as many NCAA tournament victories as the Buckeyes (29-7) since the program's breakthrough in 1999. Their 18th tourney win appeared to be in reach after Elias Harris drilled a 3-pointer to erase a 10-point deficit and tie it at 61 with 4:05 to go.
Sullinger, however, prevented Gonzaga from becoming the third team in 24 hours to knock off a No. 2 seed. He did it by keeping his composure while dealing with foul trouble and showing off some brains to go with his brawn. In addition to the late hook shots, he also tied a career high by knocking down two 3-pointers.
No. 1 SYRACUSE 75, No. 8 KANSAS STATE 59: At Pittsburgh, Scoop Jardine had 16 points and eight assists to lead top-seeded Syracuse. James Southerland added 15 points for the Orange (33-2), who didn't wait until the final minutes to seal the win as they did in the second round against 16th-seeded North Carolina-Asheville.
No. 4 WISCONSIN 60, No. 5 VANDERBILT 57: At Albuquerque, the Badgers are riding the nation's stingiest defense back to the round of 16. They held the SEC's two leading scorers in check Saturday night and Ryan Evans grabbed a crucial rebound with 2.1 seconds left to help Wisconsin fend off Vanderbilt.