COLUMBUS - As Jamar Butler walked into the postgame interview room, he said to no one in particular, "I feel a little bit better walking in here tonight."
David Lighty almost doubled his career high with 21 points and Ohio State righted itself from a humiliating exhibition loss to beat Wisconsin-Green Bay 91-68 Monday night in the opening round of the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament at Value City Arena.
The Buckeyes (1-0) advance to meet Columbia (1-0), which beat Delaware State 47-41.
Ohio State lost to an in-state Division II school, Findlay, in its last exhibition game.
"I got too many calls," Lighty said of the aftermath to the loss to the Oilers. "There were a few people I didn`t even know, trying to figure out what happened."
Freshman Kosta Koufos had 18 points and Butler, the only returning starter from last year`s 35-4 team that was the NCAA runner-up, added 17 points and 10 assists. Othello Hunter also had 17 points. The Buckeyes had dropped their only two previous first-round appearances in the preseason NIT, in 1989 and 1994.
Coach Thad Matta grinned when he was asked if that was the same team that lost its last game.
"Believe it or not, it is," he said. "Our guys came out and played with a little more intensity."
Mike Schachtner had 17 points for the Phoenix (1-1).
"Trust me, I knew Ohio State was going to be a very good basketball team tonight," Wisconsin-Green Bay coach Tod Kowalczyk said. "They shot the ball really well tonight. They shoot the ball like they did tonight and they can beat a lot of teams."
Lighty, a defensive specialist on last year`s team, came in with career highs of 11 points and eight rebounds. He had 12 points at the half and ended up matching his career high in rebounds.
"I had to redeem myself," said Lighty, who had complained that he played particularly poorly against Findlay. "I was trying to be aggressive."
It appeared the Buckeyes were in for another long night midway through the first period when they trailed the Phoenix 22-17 after going scoreless for almost 3 minutes.
But suddenly everything started clicking.
They took the lead by hitting their next six shots from the field including two 3-pointers by Koufos and one each by Butler and Lighty - who also had a three-point play in the 16-4 surge.
It didn`t stop there, either. Over the final 10Â½ minutes of the half, they hit 11 of 15 shots from the field including 5 of 7 3-pointers - blended with some solid defense at the other end - to build a 46-34 lead at the break.
They had just one turnover over that span while outrebounding the Phoenix 8-4 and holding them to 33 percent shooting on 5-of-15 from the field with a clinging, matchup 2-3 zone.
Matta said the zone was a spur of the moment decision. The team hadn`t even practiced it all week.
"We came in for our pregame speech and coach Matta said, â€˜We`re going to play some zone tonight,`" Butler said. "It worked."
Ohio State then scored 14 of the first 18 points in the second half before substitutes took over.
The Buckeyes shot 52 percent for the game while holding the Phoenix to 37 percent.
Matta, who was active on the sideline despite two major back surgeries this summer, improved to 8-0 in season-openers as a head coach, including 1-0 at Butler, 3-0 at Xavier and 4-0 at Ohio State.
"With this team, I still don`t think we`re where we need to be yet," Matta said.