NEWARK, N.J. — Brandon Knight did it again.
NEWARK, N.J. — Brandon Knight did it again.
So did 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 5 seconds left 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.
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 a game-winner in Kentucky's second-round win over Princeton, drove to his right then knocked down a silky 15-foot jumper.
"I think Brandon does it on purpose," said Kentucky guard Doron Lamb. "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 as the Wildcats sent the seemingly dominant Buckeyes home early again. The loss marked the third straight year the Buckeyes failed to advance to the regional final.
Ohio State coach Thad Matta has called this team a special one capable of getting the program back to the Final Four for the first time since 2007. Yet it ended with the Buckeyes trudging off the floor in disbelief.
Kentucky, which struggled to win close games earlier in the season, rushed onto the floor as the buzzer sounded. DeAndre Liggins, like Harrellson a leftover from Billy Gillispie's days at Kentucky, 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. "That's why we're still playing, because of those guys."
Matta called Harrellson the most underrated player in the country. Liggins isn't too bad, either.
The defensive stopper hounded Ohio State's shooters and attacked the basket at the other end of the floor. He finished with 15 points for the Wildcats, who beat Ohio State for the first time in the NCAA tournament behind a suffocating defense that limited the Buckeyes to 32 percent shooting.
Sullinger led Ohio State (34-3) with 21 points and 16 rebounds, but the Buckeyes fell in the regional semifinals for a second straight season. Sullinger said in the aftermath he expects to return for his sophomore year, if only to wash out the taste of a bitter end to an otherwise spectacular season.
"I'm definitely coming back next year," Sullinger said. "I need to work on a lot of things. I have to come back. I'm coming back to win."
Ohio State rolled through the regular season but like the last two top overall seeds the Buckeyes are going home early. Louisville went out in the regional finals in 2009. Kansas didn't make it out of the first weekend a year ago.
The Buckeyes played so well — winning by an average of 30.5 points — the Wildcats appeared to be no more than a speed bump.
The win gives Kentucky a chance to avenge a loss to the Tar Heels earlier in the season. The Wildcats fell 75-73 in Chapel Hill in December.
Those days seem long gone. Kentucky has won nine straight and developed the kind of grit Calipari knew would come if he stayed patient.
"We really struggled with being tough at the beginning of the season, but we grew up a lot and came a long way," said Kentucky forward Darius Miller.
The Wildcats succeeded where so many teams have failed this season against the Buckeyes, dominating them on the defensive end.
Kentucky swarmed the 3-point line, limiting the sharpshooting Buckeyes — who'd made 28 3-pointers in easy victories over Texas-San Antonio and George Mason — to just 6 of 16 3-pointers.
Ohio State wasn't any better inside the arc, shooting just 33 percent from the field as everyone besides Sullinger struggled to find room against Kentucky's myriad of defensive looks.
"I think, honestly, some of the shots we missed we were making all year," said Diebler, who finished with 16 points. "You have to give them credit, I thought they did a good job channeling shots with their length, but we've faced length all year. They just didn't go in."
The first NCAA meeting between the two schools in 24 years had a Final Four feel. There were 19 lead changes, with no team leading by more than three points over the final 17 minutes.
It's a situation where the Wildcats had faltered early in the season. At one point they were 0-6 in games decided by five points or less.
The Wildcats also did something few teams have been able to do this year: bottle up Ohio State's 3-point shooters. The Buckeyes came in averaging nearly 8 made 3-pointers a game, knocking down 28 in their first two tournament games combined.
Ohio State only made two in the first half, both by Diebler, as the Wildcats extended the defense to prevent open looks.
It set the stage for a chippy second half that ended with another highlight-reel shot by the precocious Knight.
"We knew what we wanted to do: get the ball in Brandon's hands," Miller said. "He's done it before, we trust him with the ball and he came through again."