Playing their first road game of the season on Syracuse's "other" home court, Thad Matta's troops put a 79-65 whuppin' on the 21st ranked Orangemen last night in Madison Square Garden. The convincing win got the attention of respected (at least by me) ESPN analysts Steve Lavin and Doug Gottlieb with both raving about Matta, Kosta Koufos and Jamar Butler.
The Buckeyes looked a little out of sync early on, settling for deep jumpers after failing to get the ball into the post against the famouse Syracuse zone while surrendering a few too many bunnies at the other end of the floor as the 'Cuse cotinuously fed cutters from the high post coupled with a banked in three pointer to take a 20-13 lead midway through the first half.
That lead would disappear quickly as Koufos and Othello Hunter sparked an 18-4 run giving OSU a 31-24 lead they would never relinquish with 5:43 left in the half. Koufos had a big first half with 15 points showing an arsenal of offensive moves while Butler surgically controlled the tempo pushing the ball when opportunities arose while smartly backing it out when the Buckeyes didn't have numbers or looked a little frenetic.
In front of a pro-Orange crowd, the 'Cuse managed trim the OSU lead to 46-43 at the 16:11 mark but the Buckeyes answered with a 10-1 run behind Koufos and Butler to take a 56-46 lead with 12:47 left. The 'Cuse wouldn't threaten the rest of the way as OSU built the lead to as much as 15 securing a spot in the NIT Season Tip-Off Championship game against #16 Texas A&M Friday night at 7pm.
The 'Cuse had no answer for Koufos as the freshman poured in a game high 24 points along with 9 rebounds but it wasn't a one man show by any stretch. Fellow big Othello Hunter proved more athletic than any of the Orange producing 15 points and 8 rebounds but it was his passing that was most impressive on this night. He showed great vision running a little high-low action from the top of the key with Koufos setting up numerous easy scores keeping Syracuse from climbing back into the game.
On the perimeter, Butler showed his moxie orchestrating the offense to the tune of 14 points (4/6 3FG), 5 rebounds and 3 dimes in 40 minutes of action while freshman John Diebler looked a little more comfortable finishing with 12 points. Diebler's jumper still isn't falling but give him credit for agressively driving to the hole leading to a 7-8 night at the stripe. It's just a matter of time before he finds his touch from the outside.
Also worth mentioning is the play Matta received from Evan Turner off the bench. Turner, who looked like a deer in headlights in his previous outings, logged 20 minutes producing a versatile 6 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists. His effort helped offset a horrific performance from David Lighty who consistently forced the action driving when it wasn't there in addition to blowing a 3-on-1 fast break by trying to dunk from the foul line resulting in a charge. Lighty finished with just 5 points against 4 turnovers in 26 minutes after scoring 21 and 13 in the first two games. Let's chalk this one up as an off night and expect Lighty to come out more poised Friday night.
Overall, Lavin's "most underrated team in the country" showed they belong in the Top 25 flashing a balanced offensive attack that can score inside and out while employing a stingy zone defense. The Buckeyes held Syracuse to 36% FG (20% 3FG) and forced 16 turnovers (9 steals) while pitching a shutout against freshman sensation Jonny Flynn. The main concern defensively continues to be rebounding. Syracuse posted a 40-30 edge on the glass, including 19 offensive and Texas A&M figures to be an even stronger test.
Corey will break it down for you, but expect a much more physical affair Friday night as the Aggies sport some big bodies on the front line.