California's Jerome Randle, left, is fouled by Ohio State's David Lighty in a second-round NIT game at St. John Arena.
Terry Gilliam / AP Enlarge
COLUMBUS - Value City Arena has not been around long enough to build up a reliable cache of positive voodoo.
But in St. John Arena, the basketball home of the Buckeyes for more than four decades before their new place opened, the spirits are plentiful and friendly.
Ohio State tapped into that energy source last night and blistered California 73-56 in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament in front of a sold-out crowd of 13,276 fans. The scarlet and gray was stacked almost vertical, five tiers high in the old barn, where the Buckeyes played before college basketball needed plush corporate suites, video boards and concession kiosks.
A previously scheduled Bruce Springsteen concert forced OSU out of Value City Arena last night, but there were no complaints from the Buckeyes about venerable arena, with its accordion rows of wooden bleachers tight to the floor, and the lack of amenities.
"It was electric out there," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "It was great driving over here, seeing all of the people lined up outside. I think you feed off of that energy."
Ohio State will host Dayton tomorrow, back in Value City Arena, with the winner moving on to Madison Square Garden in New York for the NIT semifinal round.
"Obviously, we were amped up coming in here," Matta said. "You could pretty much figure it was going to be this way. It was a home game, but it was different."
The Buckeyes (21-13) trailed by a point 13 minutes into the game before closing the first half with a 17-4 run that provided a 12-point halftime advantage. The momentum Ohio State generated just overwhelmed Cal (17-16) in the second half.
"It was loud, and the crowd got us going out there," Ohio State senior guard Jamar Butler said. "Our defense led to a lot of easy baskets."
Ohio State got a steal and a fastbreak basket from Butler, then added a pair of free throws from Evan Turner to stretch the lead to 42-23 less than three minutes into the second half. After a couple of fastbreak scores by David Lighty, the Buckeyes were up 21 with 8:30 left in the game.
"I think our guys going out and playing hard was contagious," Matta said after Ohio State made 10 steals and forced 16 Cal turnovers.
"The guys got great heat on the ball, and we beat a very good basketball team."
After trailing in the opening stages of the game, Ohio State went up 13-12 on a 3-pointer from the corner by senior Matt Terwilliger with just over 10 minutes left in the first half. Three minutes later, Cal was back in front after a steal and a fastbreak basket by Jerome Randle, but Ohio State closed the half that 17-4 run to go up 35-23 at the half.
Ohio State's defensive pressure had started to take its toll, and when Turner made a steal in the backcourt and fed Othello Hunter for a dunk with 2:15 left in the half, the Buckeyes were up 27-21.
In the final minute-plus, Butler hit a pair of 3-pointers to help Ohio State to the 12-point halftime edge.
"Once we got going, we did good things with the basketball," Matta said.
"I believe these guys were very aggressive going to the basket, and did a good job of getting inside their defense."
Hunter had 11 points and a career high 16 rebounds for the Buckeyes, while Butler had 20 points and seven-foot freshman Kosta Koufos added 17.
Randle scored 18 to lead the Bears, while Cal sophomore Ryan Anderson, the leading scorer in the Pac-10 this season at more than 21 points per game and a second-team All-American, was held to just 11, equaling his season-low.
Matta said he hopes the crowd, the electricity, and the charm of St. John Arena migrate across the Olentangy River and meld into the Schottenstein Center and Value City Arena when Dayton comes to town.
"We're going to need them back at 'St. Schott' on Wednesday night," he said.
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