ATLANTA - The experts, of course, were right. Are they ever wrong?
Ohio State's 67-60 victory over Georgetown in last night's first national championship semifinal game at the Georgia Dome was indeed influenced by a battle between big men.
Their names were Ivan Harris, Matt Terwilliger, and Othello Hunter.
OK. And Greg Oden too.
But for the Buckeyes to win, they had to fight through yet another challenge presented by Oden's foul troubles.
Sure, they're getting all too used to it by now.
But when OSU's 7-footer took a seat with two fouls just 2:41 into the game, not to return for the remainder of the half, it could have been an ugly situation against a Georgetown team that is bigger and stronger across the board.
Fortunately for OSU, 7-2 Hoya center Roy Hibbert also drew his share of whistles. He played 24 minutes to Oden's 20.
But just as fortunate for the Buckeyes was the job done by the only three players on their roster, other than Oden, who stand 6-7 or taller.
Harris, who plays the fewest minutes among OSU's starters, had nine points and seven rebounds in 15 minutes on the floor. Terwilliger and Hunter combined for another seven rebounds, and each had a blocked shot which, we must point out, matched the number of blocks produced by Oden and Hibbert.
"Those three guys, collectively, did a magnificent job," said Ohio State coach Thad Matta. "They were active, they rebounded, they blocked some shots, and they altered some more. Ivan had five offensive rebounds. They did a great job."
Oden, as usual, came on to produce some quality minutes in the second half. He finished with 13 points and nine rebounds.
But this time the understudies got to make the curtain call.
They've had plenty of practice. Oden sat out for long stretches of Ohio State's regional tournament games, mostly during the first halves, and played just 18 and 24 minutes in wins over Tennessee and Memphis.
But Matta thinks the die for such solid support was cast much earlier this season, when Oden sat and watched during the Buckeyes' first seven games while recovering slowly from off-season wrist surgery.
"I hate the fact that we played seven games without Greg," Matta said. "But today is another example how it probably helped us because those guys never skipped a beat. They showed a lot of confidence. They just came in and got the job done."
In more ways than one, in fact.
A lot of folks liked Georgetown in this game based on the presumption that Hibbert and Oden would cancel each other out and that the Hoyas would get more production out of their talented forwards.
But if Jeff Green, the Big East player of the year, was ineffective on offense with nine points, then fellow forward DaJuan Summers was a nonentity with a 1-of-10 shooting performance.
Hunter's and Harris' efforts on defense, with help from Terwilliger and David Lighty, also a sub, had a big say in that.
Such a big say that Matta could avoid temptation.
"I think people think a lot of times that I've got some master plan," Matta said, referring to his strategy when Oden gets in foul trouble. "But it's really just a gut feeling. The way those guys came in and the job they did tonight, I honestly never even thought about putting Greg back in during the first half."
He had all the big men - or at least men playing big - he needed.
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