MOP Kosta Koufos paced Ohio State with 22 points, 20 in the second half, as the Buckeyes placed four in double figures on their way to the first postseason championship in the 11W era, a 92-85 victory to claim the 2008 NIT Title.
Sure, it wasn't the NCAA's but it doesn't change the fact the Buckeyes will be one of two teams to end the postseason with a win which will no doubt serve as a springboard to 2009.
The Buckeyes trailed by 10 after an 8-0 run put UMass up front 37-27 with 3:35 left in the half but the Buckeyes used a 20-6 blitz over the next 7 minutes to take a 47-43 lead just 2:39 into the second half effectively seizing control of momentum and a lead they would never relinquish.
UMass managed to tie it at 68 after after Ricky Harris' 6th of 7 triples with 3:45 on the clock but Koufos would score the next 7 points for OSU before Evan Turner sealed it converting 4/6 at the stripe with UMass forced to foul.
Turner was a beast notching 20 points, 6 boards, 4 assists and 3 steals while giving fans a glimpse of next season when he starts and/or logs heavy minutes running the point. The boxscore credited him with 8 turnovers but I must have had too many Labatt's because I thought the number was only half that. Regardless, the kid is a future star and if Crater can't handle the point I truly think Turner can with a summer focused on nothing but ball handling and decision making. He's the goods. Period.
Sporting the gray #14 for the last time, Jamar Butler recorded 19 points (8/12 FG) and 8 dimes boosting his school record totals in assists (580), three pointers (242) as well as threes in a season (104). It was a roller coaster ride for the senior from Lima this season but he leaves with 105 career wins and his legacy firmly intact. Hats off to one hell of a gritty performer. He never evolved into the vocal leader this team craved but I think his career production speaks for itself.
Also in his swan song appearance, Othello Hunter capped his career with 17 points (7/11 FG), 9 boards and 3 blocks. It was Hunter's triple, his second of the season, that capped the aforementioned 20-6 run ensuring UMass would never again have the lead. His 13 second half points were large and his athleticism will certainly be missed.
The Buckeyes overcame a 41-36 halftime deficit by shooting a scorching 61% in the second half (19/31) while holding UMass to 35% (17/49). The markmanship was sorely needed as OSU was pistol whipped on the glass surrendering 30 offensive rebounds and 21 second chance points.
And while I'm feeling frisky, I'm still convinced Jon Diebler is nothing more than a reserve spot up shooter who will likely find himself behind David Lighty, Turner and Buford in the rotation next season. He received a pretty strong defense from some folks in the comments after his 10 points against Dayton but he responded with 0 points and 6 rebounds in the last two contests returning to his 'the-game's-too-fast-for-me' form. Sorry, not trying to hate. I desperately want him to prove me wrong - I just don't see him being anything more than a 3 point shooter but I'll take that considering the talent we'll have on the perimeter next season.
Anyway, props to Thad Matta and company for regrouping after losing 6 of 8 in February (2/2 - 3/1, actually) to win 6 of the last 7 en route to an NIT championship and a solid 24-13 record after losing Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Daequan Cook, Ron Lewis and Ivan Harris from last year's squad.
With newcomers BJ Mullens, William Buford and Anthony Crater set to play impact minutes alongside (hopefully) Koufos, Lighty, Turner, Dallas Lauderdale and Diebler plus the unknown quantity that is Bad-Knees Offut and maybe some kid named Pryor, the 2009 Buckeyes are set to make some noise.