Second Half Rally Lifts Buckeyes Past No. 21 Miami, 73-68
By John Porentas
The young Buckeyes (4-0) might be just plain naive. Or, they might actually know something the rest of the world doesn't know yet. In either case, it didn't phase them one bit them when they endured miserable shooting in the first half against No. 21 Miami (4-2) and fell behind by 14 at the end of the first period. Despite the score, they were sure that they had actually played well and that all they had to do to win the game was make the open shots they were earning.
Naivety? Hubris? Too soon to tell, but against Miami it all worked out for the Buckeyes. They turned around their shooting to go from just over 27 percent from the field in the first half to over 55 percent in the second. The result was a 15-2 run to start the second half that reduced Miami's lead to just one after OSU had been down by as many as 15 late in the first half.
"We weren't down (mentally) at the half," said sophomore guard Jon Diebler.
"We executed and got open shots, we just didn't make shots. We knew in the second half if we had the same looks we had to make them,"
That's the theory, but there is a bit more to it than that. The Buckeyes were also getting stops at the defensive end to make their run against Miami . According to Head Coach Thad Matta, OSU's ability to make some shots also played into that outcome as well.
"We were missing so many shots in the first half that it was a transition game for them (Miami) the other way and they are explosive. They were at the rim and we were at a rebounding disadvantage.
"In the second half we were able to make some shots and it enabled us to get set a little bit (defensively)," said Matta.
"The second half we came out and tightened up the defense and led to some easy buckets on the offensive end," Diebler agreed.
Diebler and fellow sophomore perimeter player Evan Turner led the second half charge. Diebler did his part by heating up from three while Turner did almost everything else. He slashed to the basket, rebounded and played defense like a man determined to win a basketball game.
"He really took over the game in the second half," said Diebler.
"That's the player we know Evan as. A lot of the country this year is going to know how good of a player he is. Him being on the floor opened things up for everybody."
Diebler and Turner may have led the charge, but there were plenty of other Buckeyes contributing. Post players Dallas Lauderdale and B. J. Mullens each helped control the paint defensively and both scored and rebounded effectively. Senior David Lighty chipped in nine points in the second half after netting just two in the first. Matta was particularly pleased to have had so many players contribute to the win, the first Buckeye road win over a ranked team in two seasons.
"There were certain segments of the game where certain guys made big plays," Matta said.
"You just hope we can build on that and continue to get guys comfortable with what they're doing and an understanding of what they need to do," Matta said.
It's easy to focus on the thunder dunks of Lauderdale, the athletic drives by Turner and Lighty and Diebler's shooting, but the thing that carried the Buckeyes to victory more than anything else was their confidence, something that was lacking at times last season.
"It came from the heart," said Turner.
"We were still in the game.
"We knew the toughest team was going to win the game and that we had to stick together. That's what we all planned on doing when we came out for the second half.
"We knew it was anybody's game, that's why you play two halves of basketball. The toughest team is going to win and we had to buckle down. We did that and we were fortunate enough to win."
Good fortune like that is often made of a lot more than luck, and more than just basketball skills as well. It requires the grit of a winning attitude, something the young Buckeyes flashed for a half last night against Miami. Matta is hoping it is portent of things to come.
"This team is going to get better, but everybody (else) is going to get better (too)," said Matta.
"But I think there's so much room for improvement, and if our guys will continue to work, we've never worked a team as hard as we've worked this team, if they keep their attitude right, if their minds are right, hopefully we can keep going the right direction."
If the Buckeyes can capture that second-half confidence and bring it to the court on a regular basis this could be a very enjoyable season for OSU fans. According to Diebler, nothing would make him and his teammates more happy.
"The most enjoyable thing was the look on everybody's face on our team, how excited and how much confidence we were playing with (in the second half)," said Diebler.
"When we play with that kind of confidence we're a very dangerous team.
"Tonight we took a step in the right direction. As a young basketball team we went up against at top-25 team on their home floor and got a big win. I think we grew up a little bit tonight."
They just might be on to something.
* OSU"s win was sweet but not without controversy.
Miami's leading scorer and First Team All-ACC selection last year, point guard Jack McClinton, was ejected from the game eight minutes into the contest. McClinton had hit four threes already when he left. His ejection came about when he took a swipe at OSU freshman point guard Anthony Crater. Crater has raked McClinton's eyes while attempting to steal the basketball from him. No foul was called and the rake appeared to be inadvertent, but McClinton took exception and raked back at Crater, sending him to the floor holding his eyes.
Officials stopped the play and reviewed the tape. Upon review, they ejected McClinton for intentionally hitting a player. Immediately following the ejection Miami extended its lead from 10 to 13 and eventually 15 in the first half.
"Jack is a big leader for us. It's tough, but we have a lot veterans on our team," said fellow Miami guard Lance Hurdle.
"Right afterwards we used it for motivation but I think in the second half we lost a little bit of defensive intensity," Hurdle said.
The Hurricanes also missed McClinton's ball handling and eventually committed 18 turnovers. OSU extended its defense in the second half to force many of those turnovers in McClinton's absence.
"They only had one ball handler," said Turner.
"He was the only one that wanted to handle the ball, the rest of them didn't."