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Published: Sunday, 12/21/2008

Buckeyes roll to 8-0

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Ohio State's William Buford throws down an alley-oop pass during the first half. Ohio State's William Buford throws down an alley-oop pass during the first half.
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COLUMBUS - Evan Turner helped No. 17 Ohio State muddle through its anxiety over losing captain David Lighty.

Turner had 21 points and ignited a second-half rally with nine points and two blocked shots to guide the Buckeyes to a 71-53 victory over Iona Saturday.

The Buckeyes (8-0) relied on a 13-5 run midway through the second half to quickly erase a deficit - right after coach Thad Matta ripped into his team during a timeout.

"Your security blanket is not here," Matta told his players, referring to Lighty. "It's time to play basketball."

Jon Diebler added 16 points and William Buford 10 for Ohio State (8-0), playing its first game since Lighty broke a bone in his left foot that will sideline him six to 12 weeks.

Asked how he was doing, Lighty flashed a grin and said, "I'm good - we won."

Alejo Rodriguez scored 17 points and Jonathan Huffman 14 for Iona (4-7). The Gaels were missing leading scorer Gary Springer, who is out with a sprained ankle.

Ohio State extended the nation's longest winning streak to 13, including the final five games a year ago when it won the NIT.

Iona took a 31-28 lead with a rapid 7-0 run to start the second half, capped by Scott Machado's 3-pointer.

A disgusted Matta signaled for a timeout.

"He yelled at us at the beginning of the second half," Turner said. "He was reminding us that everybody had to play hard because we didn't have David. Everyone accepted the challenge."

Turner tied it with an immediate 3 and then began to take over the game. With Ohio State clinging to a 38-35 lead, he hit a 15-foot jumper and then blocked shots on the next two Iona possessions.

In between, Jeremie Simmons followed his own missed layup off the break and, after the second block, Simmons flipped an alley-oop pass to Buford for a dunk.

"I saw Will in the open court, and I just put it up for him," Simmons said.

Buford, Ohio's Mr. Basketball from Libbey High School, had played only 25 minutes the last two games. But he was on the court for 32 minutes with Lighty out of the lineup.

"I tried to prepare myself," Buford said. "I tried to work harder on defense because I knew if I worked hard on defense the offense would come."

Turner said it was important to turn things around on the Gaels before they gained confidence.

"You always want to stop momentum," he said. "Momentum can be your best friend or your worst enemy. It was our best friend right there."

Turner then hit a hanging 12-footer and two free throws to push the lead to 48-37.

"Evan Turner is a special player," Iona coach Kevin Willard said. "He's fun to watch."

During the spurt, the Buckeyes went with a smaller lineup with 7-foot B.J. Mullens and 6-8 Dallas Lauderdale on the bench, replaced by forwards Buford and Kyle Madsen.

The Gaels never got closer than seven points again.

Turner said Lighty, the Buckeyes' third-leading scorer at 9.7 points a game, kept encouraging his teammates.

"He has a lot of faith in us," Turner said. "He's the most optimistic person I've ever met. He always believes in us. We could go up against an NBA team, and he'd believe we would beat them."

Matta said he and his staff didn't really know what to expect of the Buckeyes. On a team with no seniors, Lighty is the most experienced player with 83 games and 51 starts.

"You felt like you had something going, you were building something, and then you lose a player - an important player," Matta said. "We said we've got to get their mind-set to be, hey, just find a way. In the second half, we got it going."

Willard, who has two players of his own wearing casts, said even without Lighty the Buckeyes were a handful.

"They lose a lot, but they have really good weapons out there," he said.



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