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Published: Sunday, 3/25/2007

Buckeyes head to Atlanta after defeating Memphis

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Ron Lewis is a proud Buckeye, especially after leading Ohio State past Memphis and to the Final Four. He scored 22 points. Ron Lewis is a proud Buckeye, especially after leading Ohio State past Memphis and to the Final Four. He scored 22 points.
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SAN ANTONIO - Well, scratch another defensive approach as faulty and ineffective at stopping Ohio State's Greg Oden.

After seeing the 7-foot freshman dominate three earlier games in the NCAA tournament, Memphis tried psychological warfare, and that, too, failed.

Ohio State fed off some trash-talking from the Tigers and put Memphis away 92-76 at the Alamodome yesterday to win the South Regional and a trip to the Final Four in Atlanta.

In previous games, opponents tried to swarm Oden, pound him, push him away from the basket, undercut him, and run him over. Memphis gave the war of words a try, and it failed miserably.

"He's an overrated big man," Memphis forward Joey Dorsey said about Oden the day before his team faced the Buckeyes. "He might be as good as Joey Dorsey."

Oden finished with 17 points on seven-of-eight shooting, nine rebounds, and blocked one shot while altering many others. Dorsey had zero points, three rebounds, and four fouls.

With his typical aplomb, Oden brushed off the comment.

"I don't let anybody get in my head," Oden said. "It's not a one-on-one game - it's five-on-five, so it's about our team and their team. That's all."

But teammate Mike Conley Jr. said Ohio State was definitely motivated by Dorsey's words.

"I think it affected us as a team more than it affected Greg," Conley said. "Greg doesn't let a lot affect him. But when somebody talks about Greg, they're talking about all of us. We're a team."

With and without Oden, the Buckeyes found a way to end Memphis' 25-game winning streak.

He controlled the middle when he was on the floor and took the finish off the Memphis slash-to-the-basket approach, but foul trouble limited Oden to just over half a game.

"Oden, when he was in there, dominated us," Memphis coach John Calipari said.

"He's huge, and when you have a guy like that - we had to play a perfect game. He made a couple of shots - you just can't do anything. A nine-foot guy couldn't have gotten the one he shot and it went in. There's nothing you can say."

Using several early steals and an effective zone defense, the Buckeyes moved out to a 9-2 lead five minutes into the game, but then Memphis zeroed in from 3-point range and quickly closed the gap. The Tigers, who hit 7-of-10 from long distance in the half, had the lead at 12-10 by the 12:25 mark.

When Oden went to the bench with two fouls, Memphis surged back. Jeremy Hunt hit a 3-pointer on the fastbreak to give the Tigers a 20-17 lead. Ohio State went to a hybrid lineup of four guards and either Othello Hunter or Matt Terwilliger in the middle, and it worked.

Oden did not play the final nine minutes of the first half, but the Buckeyes were able to move from a three-point deficit to a lead of as many as nine points, 39-30 with two minutes left, and held a 41-38 edge at the half.

Oden spun around Dorsey for a dunk to start the second half, but both big men were on the bench with fouls less than three minutes later, and Memphis put on a run, leading 56-51 with

12:30 left in the game. Oden came back in at that point, and a couple of minutes later he was involved in a play that likely sealed Memphis' fate.

As Oden got loose under the Ohio State basket and took a feed from Conley, Memphis guard Chris Douglas-Roberts wrapped his arms around Oden to prevent him from dunking as Oden released the ball toward the basket.

The shot went in, and an intentional foul was called, giving Ohio State two shots, and the ball.

Oden made one free throw to tie the game, and Jamar Butler hit two more when the possession continued, making it a five-point swing.

"We were on a run, and that just put more fuel on the fire," said Ohio State senior Ron Lewis, who led the Buckeyes with 22 points.

Memphis (33-4) never led again.

Oden's jump hook gave the Buckeyes a 71-64 lead with under six minutes left, and a desperate Memphis was forced to foul.

Ohio State (34-3) made all 18 free throws it attempted after that and went 26-of-28 from the line in the second half.

"We thought this game was going to be won by who made the most free throws," said Conley, who played all 40 minutes and had 19 points.

He was named the tournament MVP and was joined on the all-tournament team by Lewis and Oden.

"I think it was all about our determination to get to the line, and then focus and knock down the shots once we got there," Oden said. "We work on those a lot, so we should make them."

Matta, who now has to prepare the Buckeyes for a national semifinal game Saturday against the winner of today's North Carolina and Georgetown game, said reaching the Final Four was an established goal when he took the Ohio State job.

"Three years ago, we talked about a vision for this program. It just became a reality," Matta said.

Contact Matt Markey at:

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6510.



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