Ron Lewis's Clutch Three-Pointer Helps Ohio State Beat Xavier In OT
Saturday, March 17th 2007, 4:54 pm
By: News On 6
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Hold the questions about Greg Oden's future. Ohio State isn't finished in the NCAA tournament.
Ron Lewis revived the Buckeyes' national championship hopes with a long 3-pointer with 2-seconds left to force overtime, then Mike Conley Jr. dominated the extra period for a 78-71 victory over Xavier in a second-round South Regional game Saturday.
The Buckeyes' rally from an 11-point deficit in regulation ensured the Oden era will last at least one more game.
Oden, the most coveted player to enter college in years, figures to be the first pick in the NBA whenever he decides to go pro. A decision on where the freshman intends to play next winter isn't expected until after the season ends.
The Buckeyes are fortunate that time hasn't already come.
"I'm hoping we can learn from this game and know we can't just play around with teams in the first half," Oden said. "Then the second half we've got to come at them and keep coming until the game is over."
Ohio State trailed 55-44 with 71/2 minutes left, and was still down 61-52 with 2:54 left. When Oden fouled out with a hard shove after Xavier's Justin Cage rebounded an errant Buckeyes shots in the final 10 seconds, they looked lost.
Cage then made of one of 2-foul shots with 9.3 seconds left for a 62-59 lead, giving Ohio State its last chance. Lewis came down and, with two defenders flying at him, swished the tying 3-pointer from several feet beyond the arc.
"I was just trying to get an open look. I told Mike before we even left the huddle, 'Just give me the ball.' That's what he did. He found me," Lewis said.
"That's what I love about this team," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "They give you, as a coach, a lot of confidence. I kept telling them, keep your confidence and make plays, and they did."
With Oden on the bench, fellow freshman - and high school teammate - Conley took over. He scored 11 points in overtime and the Buckeyes (32-3) were never threatened again in winning their 19th straight game.
The Buckeyes, who finished No. 1 in the final Associated Press poll, advanced to the round of 16 for the first time since they went to the Final Four in 1999 - an appearance later vacated because of NCAA probation. They will play the winner of Sunday's game between Tennessee and Virginia.
Xavier (25-9), which has a history of knocking off higher seeds in the NCAA tournament, was unranked in the final AP poll.
No one had to tell Ohio State about Xavier's tourney reputation. Matta helped build it, serving as Musketeers coach for three seasons before leaving the Atlantic 10 school in 2004 to go to the Big Ten. His good friend, Sean Miller, took over at Xavier.
But this time, the Musketeers couldn't quite get the job done after the 6'6 Cage - using his quickness and experience as a senior to drive around and sometimes score over the seven-foot Oden - delivered 8-points in a 16-3 spurt that gave Xavier a shot at an upset.
Cage, who led Xavier with 25 points, had a chance to all but win the game. He made his first foul shot but missed his second, and Ohio State had a chance to save its season.
"I wasn't nervous. I just shot them like I normally do," Cage said. "It went in and out, so I just wanted to get back on defence and hope that they didn't make it."
Conley dominated the extra period. He scored Ohio State's first 7-points, then 4-free throws in the final 1:03.
Lewis finished with 27 points, going 4-5 from 3-point range and making all 7-of his free throws. Conley scored 21 and Oden had 14 points, 12 rebounds, 2-blocks and 2-steals in 35 minutes.
"Any kind of situation you can think of, we've been through it as a team. Today was nothing different," Conley said. "I had all the confidence in the world we'd win the game. We came too far to lose."
Matta played down the significance of facing Miller and his former team. Cage and Justin Doellman, who were freshmen starters on the team Matta led to the final eight three years ago, also insisted there were no lingering hard feelings over the coach's departure.
Xavier fans, who made the one-hour drive from Cincinnati, haven't been as forgiving. Many booed Matta when he entered Rupp Arena to watch part of the Musketeers' first-round victory over Brigham Young and voiced their displeasure again when the Ohio State coach was introduced before the game.
Two Musketeers supporters stood side-by-side with signs hoisted above their heads during a timeout. One read: "A Loyal Coach Is Like A Four Leaf Clover," and the other "Hard To Find, Lucky To Have."
Even though the schools are only about two hours apart and both have strong basketball traditions, the Buckeyes and Musketeers met for just the second time in the past 73 years and the fourth time overall.
Ohio State leads to the series 3-1, with Xavier's only victory coming in the opening round of the 1984 National Invitation Tournament.
"I think we were pretty confident when we were up nine," said Xavier's Drew Lavender, whose only basket - a long three-pointer with the shot expiring - put the Musketeers up by 11. "We were still pretty confident when we were up with nine seconds left, but Lewis hit the big 3. We just couldn't hold on in overtime."