Just Too Tall an Order
Sunday, April 1, 2007
ATLANTA, March 31 -- When it was over, and Ohio State had beaten Georgetown, 67-60, in the national semifinals Saturday night, the player who had led the Hoyas to this point walked slowly off the court inside the Georgia Dome, his head down and his face expressionless as he made his way past hundreds of celebrating Buckeyes fans.
Junior forward Jeff Green, with his broad smile and penchant for clutch shots, was one of the stars of this NCAA tournament and one of the catalysts behind the Hoyas' run to their first Final Four since 1985. But he and his teammates couldn't muster another comeback against the No. 1 team in the country. Green took only five shots, making four, and finished with nine points and 12 rebounds.
"It's a bad feeling to lose," Green said.
Georgetown (30-7) had won 19 of its past 20 games.
"We always felt like we were a national championship team," said junior guard Jonathan Wallace, who made five three-pointers and scored 19 points. "To lose in a Final Four game is just tough."
Ohio State (35-3) will face Florida, a 76-66 winner over UCLA, in Monday night's national championship game.
Much of the buildup in the week leading up to the game centered on the big men for each team: Georgetown's 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert -- who was dominant in a win over the Buckeyes in the second round of last year's tournament -- and Ohio State's 7-foot freshman all-American Greg Oden. But both players battled foul trouble throughout the game, which limited their playing time (24 minutes for Hibbert, 20 for Oden) and affected their aggressiveness.
Oden (13 points, nine rebounds) was called for two fouls on the offensive end in the first three minutes, and headed to the bench with Georgetown ahead 5-3. But the Buckeyes -- behind lightning-quick freshman guard Mike Conley (15 points, six assists) -- took control and built a lead with Oden sitting on the side.
After halftime, Oden scored eight of Ohio State's first 15 points, including a strong putback dunk and a tough shot inside against Hibbert. Midway through the half, Hibbert scored five straight points, drawing fouls on two of the baskets but missing the free throws. After Wallace stepped back and sank a three-pointer, the score was tied at 44 with 9 minutes 45 seconds remaining. Less than a minute later, however, Hibbert picked up his fourth foul for a push on a long defensive rebound and was taken out.
"I just had to make smarter decisions when I was out there," said Hibbert, who was called for his first foul just 18 seconds into the game. "I need to be an all-around better player when it comes to knowing when to foul and when not to."
With Hibbert out, the Buckeyes went on a 7-0 run, starting with Oden's shot inside against the shorter Green, and ending with Oden launching himself for a one-handed dunk attempt that went flying off the back of the rim. Green was called for a blocking foul, and Oden made 1 of 2 free throws for a 51-44 lead with 6:37 on the clock. Georgetown, which overcame a bigger deficit against North Carolina in the East Region final, never got closer than four points down the stretch.
On Friday night, Ohio State Coach Thad Matta showed the four players he expected would guard Green a 10-minute video of the Big East player of the year. In his first seven postseason games, Green averaged 18 points on 13.7 shots. But against Ohio State, he wasn't credited with his first shot attempt until a drive with 3:16 left in the first half. In the second half, nearly 14 minutes elapsed before he attempted his first shot. On at least two occasions, Green had the ball swiped away from behind him by a guard as he tried to dribble in the post.
"I didn't want to force anything, so I just took what they gave me," said Green, who attempted his fewest number of shots since a 56-52 loss to Villanova on Jan. 8, when he also took five. "They played great help-side defense with the other guy helping on the weak side. It made it hard for my teammates to throw it down or try to find me. . . . You got to credit their defense."
Said Georgetown Coach John Thompson III: "I've said for three years now I trust Jeff Green's instincts. He made the decisions when to pass it out, when to shoot. . . . We put the ball in his hands and he decided not to shoot. As I said, I'll live and die with Jeff Green's ability to make decisions."
The Hoyas also took some solace in knowing that they brought the program its first outright Big East regular season and tournament title since 1989, and to its fifth Final Four.
"It's hard to end it like this, but we had a great run," Green said. "We beat some of the top teams in the nation to make it to this point, but tonight wasn't our night. We lost to a great team in Ohio State. We can't hang our heads."