Saturday, March 17, 2007

Thank you, Ron Lewis

My original plan for today was that, after Ohio State would easily handle Xavier, I would make a post along the lines of Who should take the last shot for the Buckeyes? where I would analyze all of the likely candidates that coach Matta could trust to take one final shot. I had also planned on naming Jamar Butler as the person who I would give the ball to if I were coach.

That's why I don't coach.

And things don't always go according to plan, either.

I always expected today to happen. I just didn't expect it to happen today. I knew that somewhere along the line, Ohio State's knack for playing down to the level of their competition would result in the Buckeyes trying to pull out an improbable miracle. The end result of this hypothetical run, of course, would be a Buckeye missing a shot, most likely a three pointer, in the final seconds. The city of Columbus would go into a state of depression, while the rest of America would rejoice at the arrival of the tournament's first "Cinderella." After all, it is March, the tournament isn't the same without upsets, and a #1 seed is going to have to lose eventually. Can't you just smell it in the air?

Well, for about 39 minutes and 51 seconds in basketball time, it appeared that that was going to happen. Then, when it seemed all hope was lost, Justin Cage's free throw rolled off the rim, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Ron Lewis entered the game as a good, but not great player with an effective three point shot and the athleticism that allows him to drive to the hoop at will. He left as a never to be forgotten component of Buckeye basketball history. And it wasn't just because of that one shot, either. His performance that entire game epitomized what every Buckeye athlete should be about: Whether you're destined to be great like Greg Oden, or will bounce around from bench to bench in the NBA like Lewis very well may do, you're all part of one team, with one goal, and if you don't do everything in your power to achieve that goal, then you're no more of a help than the man across you. When it seemed like everyone else on the roster had given up, Lewis was the one guy who refused to quit. He was the one guy who gave his all. He was the one guy who fought for the win like there was no tomorrow. And when push came to shove, he was the one guy who put his team over the top. Will he be remembered as a legend like Fred Taylor, Jim Jackson, and Michael Redd? Of course not. But regardless of how the rest of this post-season plays out, he will be remembered as a guy that gave 100% effort 100% of the time. Everyone on the team can learn something from Lewis' performance today, especially the youngsters on the team. Because this time next season, Conley & Co. won't have guys like Lewis to clean up their messes.

Okay, that's enough gushing for one day. Now, it's time to get down to the somewhat "objective" part of this post. Ohio State's performance today was, obviously, far from ideal. The Greg Oden that we all came to know and love during the latter part of the Big Ten Tournament and then in the CCSU game was completely non-existent. The dynamite post moves, the thunderous dunks, the intensity on the boards, all of these things were noticeably absent from Oden's repertoire today. He shot just 41.7% from the field, a number which is pretty abysmal coming from the guy that led the entire Big Ten conference in field goal percentage during the regular season (61.4% in case you were wondering). He did, however, finish with 14 points and 12 boards, and did not play in the overtime due to fouling out. His supporting cast outside of Lewis was not much better. Mike Conley played the role of The Invisible Man in the second half, with the exception of one key steal off of an inbounds pass. He did clean up his act in overtime however, when it seemed like he just decided he was tired of playing bad, scoring 11 points in the extra session. Jamar Butler's impact on the game didn't stretch much past his 13 points, Ivan Harris didn't record a single point, and the Buckeyes didn't get a single bench point until Daequan Cook hit a three pointer in Overtime.

It seems like I say this after every game, but the Buckeyes were lucky today. There's no two ways around it. If they put up another performance like this one in the tournament, you can bet that there will be another team cutting down the nets.

Game Notes:
  • Greg Oden, what in heaven's name were you thinking with that last foul? Of course he had to foul there, he had no other choice, but the way he did it (shoving the guy to the ground) was far too violent, and he was lucky to not be called for a flagrant foul in that situation. Please, just wrap your gigantic arms around him the next time you're in that sitation.
  • Why did Matta not put in Hunter and/or Terwilliger after Oden fouled out? Without any of those three guys in the game, the biggest guy on the court was Daequan Cook, who was ineffective enough as it was. Ron Lewis took the jump ball at the start of the Overtime, also. I know that neither Hunter nor Terwilliger are the best offensive performers, but they're good enough to exploit mismatches.

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