Big man Oden carries Ohio State to Atlanta

Ohio State 92 Memphis 76

March 25, 2007|By Peter Yoon | Peter Yoon,Los Angeles Times

SAN ANTONIO -- So, Ohio State can win without digging a double-digit hole and climbing out.

And Greg Oden really is a game-changing difference maker.

Consecutive lackluster performances by the Buckeyes and their 7-foot center in the NCAA tournament had raised questions about both, but they made believers out of the doubters yesterday in a 92-76 victory over Memphis in the South Regional final at the Alamodome.

Ohio State grabbed control early and Oden carried the team late as the Buckeyes (34-3) extended their winning streak to 21, ended Memphis' at 25 and clinched a spot in the Final Four in Atlanta, where they will face the winner of today's game between North Carolina and Georgetown.

And the Buckeyes, who had lost a little swagger since ending the regular season as the nation's top-ranked team, will go there having re-established themselves as a premier team with the nation's most dominant post player.

"There might have been some doubt about that after the last couple of games, yeah," Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said. "But this game, I think you saw the real Ohio State and, for the most part, the real Greg Oden."

The touted freshman center had been relegated to the role of spectator because of foul trouble in the previous two games. He was in a similar position yesterday, when he picked up his second foul with nine minutes, 14 seconds, left in the first half, sat out until halftime and then picked up his third foul less than three minutes into the second half.

When he returned with 12:38 to play, Memphis (33-4) led 56-51. A couple of minutes later, Oden went on a five-minute tear during which he scored eight points, blocked a shot and drew a momentum-changing intentional foul on Memphis guard Chris Douglas-Roberts.

With 5:40 to play, Ohio State led 71-64 and had control of the game. The Buckeyes then sealed it by making 18 consecutive free throws in the final 3:47. Oden finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and a block in only 24 minutes.

"Oden, when he was in there, dominated us," Memphis coach John Calipari said. "Blocking shots and having a presence. We were relegated to shooting threes, which we didn't do half bad, but that's a hard way to stay in a game with a team like that."

Oden fouled out in regulation when Ohio State rallied from an 11-point deficit against Xavier in a second-round overtime victory, then played only 18 minutes because of foul problems when the Buckeyes overcame a 17-point halftime deficit in the regional semifinal victory over Tennessee.

"When I got in there, I got to contribute, and that's something I wanted to do," Oden said.

Oden's biggest play came with 9:43 to play and his team down 60-57. He grabbed a rebound of a missed three-pointer and had an open look at a layup. Douglas-Roberts grabbed Oden around the waist to prevent the dunk, but Oden's shot dropped, and referees called the intentional foul.

After Oden made the foul shot and missed the second free throw, Ohio State maintained possession because of the intentional foul rule. Jamar Butler made two free throws, giving Ohio State five points on the possession. The Buckeyes left their end of the floor with a 62-60 lead and did not trail again.

"It changed the whole complexion of the game," Calipari said of the intentional foul. "It put fire in them and took the wind out of our sails."

When Oden was out, guards Mike Conley Jr. and Ron Lewis carried the team as they have the past two games. Lewis had 22 points, including 10 of 10 free throws. Conley had 19.

Jeremy Hunt led Memphis with 26 points. Douglas-Roberts had 14.

Peter Yoon writes for the Los Angeles Times.

Game highlights

Key player

Greg Oden: Ohio State's big man had 17 points and nine rebounds - but they don't totally reflect his impact. He sparked a 20-8 run that decided the game.

Key statistic

35: The number of foul shots the Buckeyes made. What might be more impressive is that they only needed 41 attempts as they shot 85 percent. Memphis didn't shoot its free throws poorly, but the team only had 20 attempts, making 14.

Notable

Joey Dorsey: The former Douglass star scored zero points for the Tigers a day after he referred to himself as Goliath and Oden as "the little man."

Quotable

"I really hope it was an intentional foul because it was a difference-maker. It really changed the game."

- Memphis coach John Calipari on a call that ultimately allowed Ohio State to take the lead in the second half.

FROM WIRE REPORTS

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