It was the week of halftime speeches for Ohio State athletics. First was football coach Jim Tressel’s fiery number on Saturday against Penn State. Thad Matta took the stage Tuesday night. And boy did he deliver.
Ohio State overcame a three-point deficit at the half and defeated No. 9 Florida 93-75 at the O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla. It is the Buckeyes first road win over a Top 10 non-conference opponent since they defeated Wake Forest in 1961.
Jared Sullinger had his second double-double in as many games, scoring 26 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. David Lighty matched Sullinger’s 26 points, while William Buford and Jon Diebler added 16 and 14 (four three’s), respectively. Buford also dished out eight assists.
“Florida is a great basketball team,” Sullinger said. “They pressure the ball well and are good inside and out. It was a crazy atmosphere. We practice all the time, but it doesn’t match what happened out here today.”
The Buckeyes went into the half down 41-38. The Gators embarrassed Ohio State on the boards, racking up nine offensive rebounds (19 total) compared to Ohio State’s eight total. As one can imagine, Matta was less than thrilled and let his team know about it.
“He was very hot,” Sullinger said. “He yelled at us, his face was red, het let us know it was time to rebound.”
Rebound they did. In more ways than one.
The Buckeyes out rebounded the Gators 12-9 and took command of the game with a swarming defense. At one point in the second half Florida turned the ball over eight times in 11 possessions. Ohio State used those turnovers to outscore Florida, 37-18, over the game’s final 12 minutes, 11 seconds. The Buckeyes scored 17 points off Florida’s turnovers in the second half.
Both teams shot extraordinarily well in the second half. Ohio State made almost 71 percent of its shots and Florida 63 percent. Most of the Buckeyes’ makes came in the point, an area they went to often.
It was clear Florida had no answer down low. Sullinger went to work and delivered a dominating performance. When he wasn’t busy dunking on Alex Tyus, Sullinger was finding teammates wide open near the three-point line. His ability to find the open man will continue to wreak havoc on opponents.
Another problem for the Gators: their vaunted press was no problem for the Buckeyes. Ohio State was able to push the ball up the court and take advantage of Florida not being set on defense most of the night. Once again, Aaron Craft showed he is the answer to the point guard question.
“We’re pleased, but it’s the second game of the year,” Matta said. “There’s still a long way to go.”
The game featured 17 lead changes, 11 in the second half, and five ties.
The Buckeyes got off to a quick start and led 14-9 barely five minutes into the game. Florida answered with a 16-4 run to take a 25-18 lead. The teams went back and forth until the Gators opened up a 41-34 lead, their biggest of the night. Ohio State would end the half on a 4-0 run, though, and take that momentum into the second half.
Lighty led all scorers in the first half with 12 points. Sullinger had 10 points and five rebounds.
“There’s two ways you can go after a big win,” Matta said. “You can get better or you can think you’re good and then not get better.”
I’m thinking Ohio State is only going to improve from here on out.
That is a scary thought for the rest of the country.