Sunday, March 20, 2011
Ohio State crushes competition
By Brian Bennett
CLEVELAND -- On Saturday night, Ohio State senior and Cleveland native David Lighty took all his teammates to his family's church. The parishioners treated the Buckeyes to a feast of soul food.
Then at Sunday morning's shootaround, four Ohio State players were presented their diplomas. They couldn't walk in the school's winter graduation ceremony held at the same time a few hours south in Columbus, so they put on some mortarboards at half court of Quicken Loans Arena and spelled out O-H-I-O.
The Buckeyes might have been on the road this weekend, but they made Cleveland feel like home. And boy did they ever look comfortable here.
In an NCAA tournament that has already seen one No. 1 seed (Pittsburgh) lose and another (Duke) barely hang on, Ohio State emphatically showed why it deserved to be the top overall seed. Sunday's 98-66 destruction of No. 8 seed George Mason said it all.
"We're trying to make a statement," guard William Buford said. "We want to let everybody know we mean business."
Message transmitted. The Buckeyes won their two games here by a total of 62 points. They shot 58.6 percent from the field in the two games and 56 percent on 3-pointers.
There were no squeaky parts on this machine. Ask George Mason. Patriots coach Jim Larranaga's strategy was to try and slow down center Jared Sullinger and sharpshooter Jon Diebler, hoping Buford wouldn't go off like he did against Texas San-Antonio. Buford didn't, but Lighty -- normally the team's defensive stopper and glue guy -- erupted for 25 points on 7-of-7 3-point shooting.
George Mason couldn't concentrate on the perimeter because of the presence of Sullinger, who had 18 points and eight rebounds in just 22 minutes. Point guard Aaron Craft came off the bench to dish out 15 assists, including a 40-foot wraparound dart out of a trap to Sullinger for a dunk in the first half. Diebler and Buford still got their points, and Ohio State hit 16 of its first 23 3-point attempts.
How can you stop all of that?
"You've got great shooters outside and you've also got power post men sitting in the block," George Mason guard Cam Long said. "So when you're trying to shut down one thing, they've got other things that open up. And if you try to shut down the block, they've got the 3s that open up. So it's definitely a hard thing to guard."
"Just so many weapons on our team," Lighty said. "And everyone was clicking on high cylinders tonight. When that's happening, it's pretty hard to beat us."
Championship teams also catch some breaks along the way, and the Buckeyes got one when George Mason starter Luke Hancock -- who had 18 points and the winning 3-pointer against Villanova on Friday -- fell ill. Hancock apparently picked up a stomach bug that had him vomiting in the team hotel all Saturday night, and when he tried to go to the arena on Sunday, he got dizzy and had to stay back.
Even without Hancock, George Mason jumped out to an 11-2 lead. The Patriots were fired up -- a little too much so for the Buckeyes' tastes.
"They were talking a little bit of junk, and that ticked us off," Buford said.
A bear when poked roars back. Ohio State outscored George Mason 50-15 the rest of the first half, allowing only one field goal the final 10 minutes in a devastating 26-4 run before intermission.
"We finished the game pretty well," Ohio State forward Dallas Lauderdale said in an understatement. "It was a wake-up call seeing Butler knocking off Pitt. We're on a mission."
In order to derail that mission, somebody is going to have to make the Buckeyes feel a lot less comfortable than they were in Cleveland.