NEWARK, N.J. - Brandon Knight did it again. So did No. 1 seed Ohio State.
The Kentucky freshman guard added to the Buckeyes’ March misery by knocking down his second game-winner of the postseason, a 15-footer with five seconds remaining to lift the Wildcats to a 62-60 victory on Friday in the East regional semifinals.
Kentucky (28-8) will face North Carolina on Sunday for a trip to the Final Four.
“When it comes to crunch time, couple seconds left, the game is on the line, I just try to make good decisions,” Knight said.
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Regardless of how the previous 39 minutes went. Knight missed seven of his first nine shots and spent most of the night getting hounded by Ohio State counterpart Aaron Craft.
It hardly mattered in the end.
Ohio State’s Jon Diebler hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 60 with 21 seconds remaining, but rather than call timeout, Kentucky coach John Calipari opted to trust his players.
Knight, who knocked down the winning shot in No. 4 seed Kentucky’s second-round win over Princeton, drove to his right then converted a silky 15-foot jumper.
“I think Brandon does it on purpose,” Kentucky guard Doron Lamb said. “I think he misses every shot in the first half then hits the game-winner. If he keeps hitting the game-winner, we’ll take that.”
Ohio State rushed down the floor, but William Buford’s 3-pointer clanked off the rim and the rebound was tapped out of harm’s way.
Senior center Josh Harrellson held his own against Ohio State super freshman Jared Sullinger, scoring 17 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Sullinger led Ohio State (34-3) with 21 points and 16 rebounds.
Once again, the Wildcats sent the seemingly dominant Buckeyes home early. The loss marked the third straight year the Buckeyes failed to advance to the regional final.
Ohio State coach Thad Matta had called this team special, capable of getting back to the Final Four for the first time since 2007. Yet it ended with the Buckeyes trudging off the floor in disbelief.
Kentucky rushed onto the floor as the buzzer sounded. DeAndre Liggins, like Harrellson a leftover from former coach Billy Gillispie’s days, hopped atop a table and pounded his chest as Knight stood at halfcourt and soaked in the moment.
The victory proved sweet vindication for the two holdovers, who were mostly spectators last season as Calipari revitalized the program behind a star-studded freshmen class led by John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.
Harrellson and Liggins took this year’s group of youngsters under their wing and delivered the kind of savvy veteran presence the Wildcats could have used last season, which ended with a loss to an experienced West Virginia squad in the East regional final.
“Our veteran players who were not significant a year ago have now taken on this team,” Calipari said.
About the only good news for the Buckeyes was Sullinger said he will return for his sophomore season. “I’m definitely coming back next year,” he said.