March 18, 2008

Buckeyes open NIT with convincing win

COLUMBUS - Nobody would mistake Wednesday night's big man battle with last year's game between Greg Oden and Roy Hibbert but the crowd at Value City Arena was still entertained watching the Buckeyes try and match-up against 7-foot-7 center Kenny George and his flat-footed dunks.. Ohio State held the big man to 12 points in 27 minutes while Ohio State found success from beyond the arc to pull away from UNC-Asheville 84-66 in the first round of the MasterCard NIT.

Jamar Butler led Ohio State with 21 points and 10 rebounds while Othello Hunter went 8-10 from the field for 16 points and Kosta Koufos threw in 15 and David Lighty had 13. Ohio State will await the winner of Cal versus New Mexico and will play them at a yet to be determined time on Monday at St. John Arena.

"We did a good job offensively," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. "As a team we had great execution and ball movement. I give UNC-Asheville a lot of credit for a great game. They took great shots and move the ball well. I have great respect for that team."

UNC-Asheville kept the game close for a good part of the first half behind a 63-perecent shooting clip in the first 20 minutes and 13 first half points from Reid Augst (20 points for the game) and 9 points for Bryan Smithson (17 for the game). The Bulldogs came within a game this season of making the NCAA tournament but knew that they would have their hands full coming into Columbus to take on the Buckeyes.

"This was a great place to play," UNC-Asheville head coach Eddie Biedenbach said. "We came ready to play, we were able to get healthy and we gave it everything we had tonight. We didn't play our best game but we played with effort."

After coming so close to the NCAA tournament there was some concern that the Buckeyes might not come out as focused as they needed to be to take on the tenacious Bulldogs.

"We had to come out with a good attitude and that was the main thing," Butler said. "I don't know if coach said but I think that is what he was worried about. How would we come out because it was the NIT. We all came out strong, hungry and wanted to win and it is a tournament and we want to win it."

Matta admitted that he was a little curious as to how the team would respond but knew before game time that his team would have the focus that they needed to play well.

"Coming into the game, I was a little concerned," Matta said. "However the team had an intense and active practice and the best shoot-around. That really gave me hope coming into (Tuesday's) game. They had great energy and I felt we were in good shape."

Butler put up 13 of his 21 points in the second half but had six of his ten assists in the first half. Playing out of conference the team had a chance to do some things that they weren't able to during the 19 games of the Big Ten season.

"I just was taking what they were giving me," Butler said. "They were defending the ball screen different than teams did in the Big Ten which gave me a little bit of freedom."

Both teams ended up shooting better than 50-percent for the game and the open style played right into the strength of the Buckeyes.

"I feel as if our up and down running has gotten better and we picked it up a little bit," Hunter said. "We were kind of slacking sometimes on defense but we can just fix that."

But all of the players agreed that it was getting out there and being able to run.

"It was fun and I think that is back to our game," Ohio State forward Dallas Lauderdale said. "We just run and that is what we want to do. When we run we are at our best and we have the most fun as a team and we things that we are capable of doing. I think this was a good game to get us out of our shell."

"That's what we like to play," Butler said. "We might be one of the few teams in the Big Ten that likes to play like that and to get back to the chance to play that kind of ball and getting out in transition is fun."

"It was an exciting game," Ohio State guard Jon Diebler said. "We knew that we would get a lot of things in the transition on them and knew when Kenny was out that we could kind of pound them inside. I thought we moved the ball well tonight and took what the defense gave us."

Matta was able to clear the bench and the 7,100 in attendance roared when Mark Titus and Danny Peters took the court and when Peters cleaned up an erratic P.J. Hill shot for the final points of the game the half full arena sounded almost like a sell-out.

The Buckeyes were told going into the game by Matta that eight footers would be ten footers while ten footers would be 12 footers. Hunter showed range that most fans had not seen during the season in shooting 80-percent from the field. Where was this range for the first 32 games.

"I don't know where it has been," Hunter said. "I have always had it but I always look for my teammates first but I noticed that he was going to lay off of me way under the rim so I might as well shoot it."

The Buckeyes know their next loss will be their last loss of the season so every game is a big game.

"Now it is just one-and done and we don't want to end and I know we don't want it to end for the seniors," Diebler said. "We still have a championship to win and I think our focus coming into the game was strictly business."

Game Notes

  • Thad Matta has reached the 20-win mark for the seventh consecutive season. He is the first OSU coach to win 20 or more games in each of his first four seasons.

  • Before tonight Ohio State's last win in the Postseason NIT was in 1989 against Nebraska (85-74) before the Buckeyes lost to St. John's 83-80 in overtime.

  • Ohio State is now 14-7 all-time in eight appearances in the NIT Postseason tournament. The Buckeyes won the event in 1986 defeating Wyoming 73-63. The Buckeyes lost in the championship game in 1988 before losing to UCONN. The last time the Buckeyes participated in the NIT was in 2003 and they lost 72-68 at Georgia Tech.

  • The Buckeyes are now 7-0 against current members of the Big South conference and 2-0 against UNC-Asheville.

  • Ohio State is 62-6 at Value City Arena under Thad Matta and 65-6 in Columbus (that includes games at Nationwide Arena and St. John Arena).

    Stat Leaders
    Ohio State - Butler 21, Hunter 16, Koufos 15, Light 13
    UNC-Ashville - Augst 20, Smithson 17, George 12, Garland 10

    Ohio State - Koufos 4, Hunter 3, Terwilliger 3, Turner 3
    UNC-Asheville - George 11, Augst 8, James 4

    Ohio State - Butler 10, Diebler 3, Turner 3
    UNC-Asheville - Garland 7, Smithson 5, Moles 2

    Later this evening Brandon Castel will have a break-out piece on the impact of 7-foot-7 center Kenny George in the game.

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