An Inspired Oden Sparks Ohio State
Sunday, March 25, 2007
SAN ANTONIO, March 24 -- With one minute remaining, the scarlet-clad fans behind the Ohio State bench stood and cheered, perhaps as much in relief as jubilation. After a tournament marked with heart-pounding finishes for the top-seeded Buckeyes, they would need no miracle comeback Saturday, no last-second three-pointers or overtime heroics.
In a 92-76 victory over No. 2 seed Memphis in the South Region final, Ohio State at last unleashed its superior talent for an entire game. As the clock ran out, freshman point guard Mike Conley hurled the ball into the air as coaches hugged each other on the bench.
"Three years ago, we talked about a vision for this program," said Coach Thad Matta, hoisting the region trophy for the Ohio State crowd. "It just became a reality."
As most of the Buckeyes put on their Final Four T-shirts and hats, freshman star center Greg Oden ambled toward a television interview with the new garb in his oversize right hand, his face concealing any emotion despite a convincing performance. Oden had dominated Joey Dorsey one day after the Memphis center challenged him, scoring 17 points and grabbing nine rebounds.
Among other boasts, Dorsey promised the matchup would be like David and Goliath, "and I'm Goliath." Ohio State coaches passed out quote sheets at a team meeting Friday night, wanting the players to seethe, but with control. Assistant coach Dan Peters told Oden, "It's not a one-on-one game."
Not that Oden needed the lesson. Teammates couldn't see a difference in Oden, cerebral enough not to overreact to Dorsey's comments, yet passionate enough to ingrain them into his mind.
"I kind of got mad," Oden said. "But I just had to go out there and play. I couldn't let what he said affect me, because that's what he was trying to do. If you need something like that to motivate you in this magnitude of a game, you're not ready for this."
As if making a point to Dorsey, who on Friday called Oden "overrated as a big man," Ohio State threw the ball to Oden in the post on the game's first possession. Oden spun around Dorsey for an easy layup, and the same thing happened on the first possession of the second half.
"Message," OSU forward Othello Hunter said. "I just knew when he got the ball down low, when he dunked it, he was going to show some emotion, just showing the guy that, 'you're not better than me.' "
Oden displayed an unfamiliar edge. After he wheeled around Kareem Cooper for a vicious two-handed dunk, Oden hung on the rim and slapped the backboard with both hands. Later, Conley threw a pass over his head and out of bounds. Oden ripped out his mouth guard and yelled at Conley, his best friend and former high school teammate.
Oden's matchup with Dorsey fizzled as both players drew two fouls in the first half; Oden played nine minutes in the first, Dorsey eight.
Oden recovered in the second. Dorsey did not. Both finished with four fouls, but the stat lines differed from there. Dorsey didn't take a single shot and missed two free throws while grabbing three rebounds, 17 shy of what he promised Friday.