COLUMBUS — While the reference to “David vs. Goliath” often presents itself during a postseason tournament’s opening round, nobody expects an actual giant to make his way into the arena.
But such was the case Tuesday night when the smaller Ohio State players had to find ways to get past UNC Asheville
7-foot-7 center Kenny George.
They were successful as the top-seeded Buckeyes won 84-66 in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.
“Kenny George is a tremendous player and has a bright future ahead of himself,” Ohio State 7-0 center Kosta Koufos said. “It’s something that I’ll be able to tell my grandkids about one day.”
While the matchup may not have been legendary, the way the Buckeyes went around, over and nearly through the huge Bulldogs junior was impressive.
Senior guard Jamar Butler seemed to perfect a high-arcing floater that George managed to touch only once — and was called for goaltending. Forwards David Lighty and Othello Hunter used great inside moves to swing past the big man and get easy layups. And Hunter drew a foul when he took off from the baseline to attempt a two-handed dunk with George between him and the basket.
“I wanted to dunk on him,” Hunter said. “That was my whole thing. I told people before the game that I was going to try. I think if I had that same opportunity again I think I would the next time.”
The win was a relief for Ohio State coach Thad Matta, who wasn’t sure his Buckeyes could shake the disappointment of not earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday night.
“I was a little concerned after the practice we had (Monday),” Matta said. “But we had one of the best shootarounds of the year this morning and that really gave me some hope that we would come out and play well.”
The coach, who is in his first postseason NIT, stated the obvious when he talked about the Buckeyes’ one-day preparation for UNC Asheville.
“We came in with two game plans because they are two different teams when George is playing or not,” Matta said. “We felt we had a good size advantage when he wasn’t on the floor and we tried to go inside as much as we could. When he was out there, we tried to get up and down the floor as fast as we could and to take the best shot available as quick as we could.”
Even with the strong game plans, George still looked impressive in going 6-for-7 — most of them effortless dunks — and grabbing 11 rebounds.
“I felt I played all right,” George said. “I think I held my own out there. I guess there are some things I could have done different and those things may have changed the outcome of the game.”
Now the Buckeyes will begin to focus on their second-round matchup, which will take place Monday at an undetermined time at St. John Arena against the winner of tonight’s game between New Mexico and California.
“I think the guys have been able to shake off the disappointment (of missing the NCAAs),” Matta said. “Now we just have to keep it going. They just have to remember we’re still taking part in a postseason tournament and there is still a prize at the end.”
The win over UNC Asheville gives Ohio State a 2-0 record against the Bulldogs. The Buckeyes won 93-59 in Columbus on Dec. 4, 1993.
** The Buckeyes are 7-0 all time against the Big South Conference. They also defeated a Big South team, Virginia Military Institute, 90-57 on Nov. 25.
** This is the eighth appearance in the NIT for Ohio State. The Buckeyes won the event in 1986 and finished as runner-up in 1988.
** Monday’s game could be bittersweet for Matta. Unless the game is played in the early afternoon, the Buckeyes coach will have to surrender his Bruce Springsteen tickets, as The Boss will be performing that evening at Value City Arena.
“Maybe we can talk him into coming over to St. John’s and singing the national anthem,” joked Matta.
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ohio State 84,
UNC Asheville 66
U.N.C. ASHEVILLE (23-10): Moles 1-3 2-4 4, Augst 8-12 0-0 20, James 0-4 1-2 1, Garland 4-9 0-0 10, Smithson 7-13 1-2 17, Gill 0-1 0-1 0, Davis 0-0 0-0 0, Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Williams 1-2 0-0 2, George 6-7 0-1 12, Ridenhour 0-1 0-0 0, Stubbs
0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-52 4-10 66.
OHIO STATE (20-13): Hunter 8-10 0-2 16, Koufos 7-12 1-3 15, Butler 8-15 0-0 21, Turner 1-2 0-0 2, Lighty 5-10 1-1 13, Wallace 0-2 0-0 0, Hill 0-1 0-0 0, Peters 1-3 0-0 2, Madsen 1-2 0-0 2, Diebler 3-5 0-0 8, Titus 0-0 0-0 0, Terwilliger 1-1 0-0 3, Lauderdale 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 36-64 2-6 84.
Halftime—Ohio State 45-35. 3-Point Goals—U.N.C.-Asheville
8-18 (Augst 4-6, Garland 2-4, Smithson 2-5, Ridenhour 0-1, Gill 0-1, James 0-1), Ohio State 10-21 (Butler 5-10, Diebler 2-4, Lighty 2-5, Terwilliger 1-1, Koufos 0-1). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—U.N.C. Asheville 35 (George 11), Ohio St. 26 (Koufos 4). Assists—U.N.C. Asheville 16 (Garland 7), Ohio State 20 (Butler 10). Total Fouls—U.N.C. Asheville 8, Ohio State 14. A—7,117.