In a game played in front of 237 rowdy fans jammed into Madison Square Garden, Ohio State came out smoking with a 17-2 run to take a commanding 27-10 lead just 10 minutes in before closing the half on a 13-2 burst handing the Ole Miss Rebels their worst halftime hole of the season, 44-20.
The Rebels would bounce back from the first half manhood-stripping with an impressive 21-5 spurt in which they shot a blistering 9/11 including 3/3 on threes from David Huertas while holding the Buckeyes to 2/10.
The run cut the Buckeye lead to 56-45 with 11:57 to play but the Rebels weren't done there.
Ole Miss would eventually trim the lead to seven (75-68) following a Chris Warren triple with 1:44 left on the clock but a hobbled Butler would answer with a game-icing driving layup.
A few dunks later the Buckeyes secured an 81-69 victory and a berth in the NIT Championship where they'll face the UMass Minutemen (that's what the girls say) Thursday night at 7pm.
The loss was the Rebels' first against a non-league opponent (17-1).
The 2-2-1 press and 3-2 zone gave Ole Miss trouble in the decisive first half as they committed double digit turnovers coupled with a paltry 8/28 from the floor (28%). The Buckeyes were also large on the boards posting a 27-15 edge including 11-5 on the o-glass.
The stifling defensive effort early was buoyed by a balanced offensive attack. Jamar Butler and David Lighty scored 9 each while Kosta Koufos and Evan Turner added 8 apiece.
When the dust settled on the Jekyl and Hyde affair the Buckeyes had placed 4 Buckeyes in double figures while forcing 20 turnovers and holding a 41-36 edge on the glass.
For my money, Evan Turner was the star of the game with 17 points (6/12 FG), 7 boards 5 assists to complement another stellar defensive outing (4 steals). His length on both the press and the zone gave the Rebel ball handlers fits all night long.
Even more important, Turner has reached double figures in two straight for the first time since he had 10 against Northwestern then 16 against Michigan in mid-February. In wins over Dayton and Ole Miss, Turner has compiled 28 points, 15 boards and 8 dimes.
Butler also scored 17 though he appeared to slighty tweak his leg late in the contest before the aforementioned dribble drive to seal the deal. Obviously, the Buckeyes will need a healthy Butler to have any shot at winning the championship.
Lighty kept up his improved play of late with 16 points (7/14 FG) and 5 assists and Koufos added 16 points and 8 rebounds.
Othello Hunter just missed double digits with 9 points but made his presence known at the defensive end registering 5 blocks to go along with 6 boards.
All in all, it was a bit troubling to watch the Buckeyes hemorrhage 49 second half points but I think Corey summed it up best noting the Buckeyes haven't had much experience managing such a huge lead with so much time left. The comfortable margin lead to some questionable shot selection and a relaxed defensive effort before the Bucks settled in making plays when needed to keep the Rebels at bay.
Ohio State has now won 6 of their last 7 pushing the season record to 23-13. Good night, now.