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Buckeyes pick up the pace to stop Hoyas
The top-ranked Buckeyes last reached the NCAA finale in 1962 and last won a title in 1960.
By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published April 1, 2007
ATLANTA - Ohio State showed that size may matter, but not necessarily as much as speed.
At the most critical of moments, it was the Buckeyes' quickness, with both their hands and feet, that proved to be the difference in a 67-60 win against Georgetown Saturday night at the Georgia Dome, propelling them into the NCAA championship game Monday.
The top-ranked Buckeyes 35-3, who last reached the NCAA finale in 1962 and last won a title in 1960, couldn't let this game turn into a halfcourt showdown between the towering centers, Greg Oden and Georgetown's Roy Hibbert.
They had to push the pace.
"That was one thing we thought we could do and wanted to do," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said, "was try to speed up the game, get them playing up and down."
The Buckeyes saw that North Carolina built a lead on the Hoyas on transition baskets in last weekend's East Region finale, but the Tar Heels faltered and lost in overtime when they couldn't continue to score that way.
"We knew if we played a halfcourt game, we were playing into their hands," OSU freshman point guard Mike Conley said. "They have a big frontcourt. They can block a lot of shots. We didn't want to deal with that throughout the whole game."
Ohio State outscored the Hoyas 14-4 in transition. Ohio State also forced 14 turnovers, parlaying those opportunities into 22 points. The Hoyas scored 10 off eight OSU turnovers.
"We had too many turnovers, which didn't allow us to get shots at the basket, which didn't allow us to get into a rhythm," Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. "That comes down to the defense that they played."
That's how the Buckeyes were able to overcome another foul-plagued game for Oden.
He drew his second foul 2:41 into the game and sat out the rest of the first half.
His line for the half: two missed free throws, no points, no rebounds, two turnovers and one steal.
"It was real tough in the first half, just sitting there, because I wanted to contribute," he said. "But my teammates stepped up."
Ohio State junior centers Othello Hunter and Matt Terwilliger played well off the bench, and the Hoyas (30-7), who had won 19 of their previous 20 to get to the Final Four for the first time since 1985, turned the ball over nine times and trailed 27-23 at the break.
It didn't help them that Hibbert, who scored eight of his 19 in the first half, picked up two fouls and was limited to 10 minutes in the half; he sat for the final 6:48.
"I was at the wrong place at the wrong time sometimes," he said. "I just needed to make smarter decisions when I was out there."
Still, the Hoyas tied the score at 44 with 8:50 left, only to see Hibbert pick up his fourth foul a few moments later.
Oden, who had been out for a few minutes after he was called for his third, returned at the same time.
And that's when OSU stepped on the gas.
Oden immediately hit a short jumper in the lane then the Hoyas, without their big man in the middle, missed back-to-back 3-pointers.
The Buckeyes grabbed the rebounds and raced down court for layups by reserve freshman guard David Lighty and junior guard Jamar Butler.
All of that took 60 seconds.
"It was just us going out there playing hard," said Oden, who finished with 13 points and nine rebounds.
Oden followed with a free throw after he missed on a spectacular one-handed dunk try, launching himself about 10 feet from the basket. Georgetown got no closer than four the rest of the game.
"Teams that play on Monday night in April find a way to make luck happen," Thompson said. "They made the plays when they needed them to be made."