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These Buckeyes don't always have to go to Jared

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PITTSBURGH -- It's always Jared this. And Sully that.

Wouldn't you get tired of hearing that if you, too, were Jared Sullinger's teammates at Ohio State?

Yes, he's a big man, a powerful player, and a name that has become synonymous with the Buckeyes program, a beneficiary of the college basketball hype machine.

You see the big guy, baby?

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But the other Buckeyes want to show that this is far more than just Sullinger's team. That's what the past three days have been for the second-seeded Buckeyes in the East Regional of the NCAA tournament: Showing they are far more than just a one-man band.

To be blunt about it, the lead act didn't play a big part as the rest of the gang picked up the slack Saturday to lead the Buckeyes to a tough 73-66 victory over seventh-seeded Gonzaga and advance to the Sweet 16.

"Everybody thought it was just him," Buckeyes forward Deshaun Thomas said. "Players like me stepped up. Sully is a big target. He's our man. He's our guy. It's hard to focus on one guy. I want to show them [we're more than one man]. And we did."

That's why this team is a legitimate contender to win it all.

Sullinger had 18 points, including two key baskets late, but was limited to 26 minutes because of foul trouble.

That put more into the hands of Thomas, a smooth 6-7 forward who was the star of the weekend, and Aaron Craft, the tenacious point guard with a baby face and red cheeks.

Thomas had 18 points to go with the career-high 31 he had in Thursday night's victory over Loyola, Md. He has a nice touch from the outside, can get to the basket and he's athletic. In fact, he might end up with better NBA chances than the slow-footed Sullinger, who doesn't exactly jump out of the gym. Crazy? Don't laugh.

As for Craft, he's the tough-minded point guard who defends as well as any college player in the country. But against Gonzaga, he was much more than that. He was the tempo setter.

Craft finished with his first double-double, getting 17 points and 10 assists. It was his ability to beat the Gonzaga guards off the dribble that forced the Bulldogs to switch to a zone, something they rarely do.

"He's the heart and soul of this team," Thomas said of Craft.

It was Craft's matchup with Gonzaga freshman guard Kevin Pangos that set the tempo for the game. Pangos finished 3 for 13 with 10 points as Craft hounded him all night long.

"He's the guy who makes their team go and can score in a variety of ways," Craft said. "It was fun matchup. It's always great to go up against another great guard, and he's one of them."

Craft isn't the type of player to toot his own horn, but his coach didn't hold back.

"There is nobody better [playing defense] in college basketball," Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said.

The Buckeyes needed great defense down the stretch. After leading by 10 with 9:05 left, Gonzaga tied it at 61 with 4:03 left on a 3-point shot by Elias Harris. Gonzaga scored one more basket the rest of the way, that on a 3-point heave in the final seconds.

That's suffocating defense.

It helped that the lead actor took over his role, too. Sullinger made a tough shot to put the Buckeyes up 63-61, made another jumper to make it 66-61 and had two free throws after that.

After his jump shot went down, Gonzaga called timeout and Sullinger raced to the other end where he flexed and posed and screamed to the crowd.

"He's a great player, maybe the best in the country," Buckeyes guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said about Sullinger. "Some of the stuff he does overshadows maybe the minor things we do. At the end of the day, we're all chipping in to make sure we win the game. People that know basketball know that t takes five guys. We kind of don't get into that stuff."

I pointed over to Thomas, sitting across from him.

"He did," I told him.

"DeShaun's DeShaun," Smith said. "I'm not sure what DeShaun says or what he had to say about it. I know, for me, we're lucky to have him."

They sure are, but if this team is going to win a title, it's the supporting cast that will make it happen.

Jared who? Isn't he some guy that makes sub commercials?


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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