March 26, 2008

Big Apple bound Buckeyes

COLUMBUS - It might not be the final four that the Buckeyes were gunning for at the start of the season but Ohio State is heading to Madison Square Garden to play in the NIT semi-finals after using a 23-8 run to start off the second half and open up a double digit lead behind some key buckets from Jon Diebler and Evan Turner to turn a one point deficit into a 11 win for the Buckeyes (22-13) against Dayton (23-11).

While it was Turner and Diebler that made the difference during the run it was Jamar Butler and Kosta Koufos that made their presence known throughout the second half. The freshman center scored 12 of his 21 points in the second half while the senior captain saved his best for last in his final half on the Ohio State campus with 9 of 12 points coming late.

"Out growth has been amazing this season," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. "We have come a long way the last few months with our maturity. We're still not where I would like us to be but the improvement has been great."

Not everything went according to plan with the Flyers opening up a five point lead in the first half behind big shooting from Brian Roberts (20 points). The 2008 Buckeyes have been a psychologist's worst nightmare showing multiple personalities all season long. Matta knew that he couldn't put too much pressure on his team too early in the game.

"I couldn't tell them before the game how important this game was going to be for Dayton, they can't handle that," Matta said. "We had to kind of get rocked a little bit early there, Dayton was much more physical. At halftime I said, 'Look, here it is… this is a huge game for them. They kind of kicked your tails there for the first 16 minutes,' and I thought once they saw it they were much better equipped to go out in the second half and play."

No chance of pulling that off two months ago for this team.

"No, oh no… we might not have come out of the locker room two months ago," Matta joked.

The Buckeyes got into foul trouble with Othello Hunter and Koufos both picking up multiple fouls in the first half. The Buckeyes opted to go to a four guard and one big man offense for the final 23 minutes of the game to positive results.

"We made the change to go small with about three minutes left in the (first) half," Matta said. "They kept driving to the baseline on our bigs and it was tough for them to guard. They went really small se we had to adjust."

Koufos was able to step up and his last five field goals of the game en route to going 9 of 11 from the field. The freshman center was also able to work the ball back outside to the wings and even though he was only credited with one assist still managed to give the Buckeyes enough of an inside presence with an outside threat.

"I just wanted to play within myself," Koufos said. "I have tremendous teammates and just wanted to kick it out and give them an opportunity to shoot the ball."

Koufos' teammates knew that putting the ball in the hands of the big man would go a long way for their chances to win the game.

"Kosta hit some big shots to put the game away basically," Turner said. "I think we had a good team win tonight and that helped a lot."

Turner got things started in the second half for Ohio State in scoring the first four points of the half to get the run underway. The freshman guard was held to two points in the first half on 0-1 shooting but was able to right the ship for 11 points and eight rebounds.

"When I wasn't scoring (coach Matta) gave me looks, he didn't say anything," Turner said. "Coach (Archie) Miller does a pretty good job of getting into me when I am not playing the way I should be playing. My teammates and I knew we just had to pick it up another notch and I was fortunate to make some buckets."

Jon Diebler showed signs of getting out of his shooting slump with 3-5 shooting from the field including a pair of three's and a nice slashing drive to the basket.

"We tell (Jon) to keep shooting," forward Matt Terwilliger said. "There are days in practice he knocks them down and it keeps us going. We just keep telling him to shoot."

The Flyers were aware of what Diebler could do and unfortunately for them the shots started to fall.

"It's hard because I know how great of a shooter Jon Diebler is," Dayton head coach Brian Gregory said. "He hasn't been able to (shoot) the ball into the ocean the last few weeks, but then he hit the two big 3-pointers in that eight minute stretch and I felt that really got Ohio State going."

Even with the big win there are plenty of things to work on before the Buckeyes face off against Ole Miss (24-10) on April 1st for a 9 p.m. (EDT) tip off. The Buckeyes were out rebounded 20-12 in the first half and fell to a 15-3 disadvantage on the offensive glass for the game. Shooting 53-percent from the field cures the ailment of a bad rebounding game for the Buckeyes however.

Is it a relief or a burden coming out of a physical league like the Big Ten going against teams that like to run up and down the court?

"The Big Ten is a tough conference," Hunter said. "There is a lot of toughness and some of these other conference we have been playing haven't been as (physical) so we can just use that toughness and carry it on from the Big Ten to these games now."

So now the Buckeyes will have to carry the Big Ten banner to the Big Apple and a path that could match them up with a pair of SEC teams with the known game against Ole Miss set and a possible finals match-up against the Florida Gators. But there is no looking ahead for the Buckeyes who just want to keep things in perspective.

"We want to win this thing," Butler said. "We still have 80 minutes of basketball to play."

Game Notes

  • Ohio State is now 4-2 all-time against Dayton and 30-13 against the Atlantic 10 conference.

  • Ohio State is shooting 55.3 percent from the field during the postseason NIT (90-169 from the field).

  • Ohio State is now 33-1 in games where Matt Terwilliger scores at least four points.

  • Jamar Butler is eight points behind Clark Kellogg in career scoring with 1,277 points in his Ohio State career to check in at No. 24 all time.

    Game Stats
    Ohio State - Koufos 21, Butler 12, Turner 11, Diebler 10
    Dayton - Roberts 20, Wright 12, Little 10

    Ohio State - Turner 8, Koufos 5, Hunter 4
    Dayton - Little 7, Binnie 6, Sandoval 6

    Ohio State - Butler 7, Diebler 4, Turner 3, Lighty 3
    Dayton - Little 2, Binnie 2

    Ohio State - Hunter 3

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