While this won’t totally erase the pain of losing in the NCAA Championship game last season, there was definitely a sense that there was a certain degree of redemption as the Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the Florida Gators 62-49 in front of 19,049 towel-waving fans at Value City Arena, Saturday afternoon.
“Florida is definitely one of the premier programs in the nation,” Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said in his postgame press conference. “Last year, we won 35 games and lost four, two of which came against Florida. It’s nice to beat them this year and take a little bit of that bad taste out of your mouth.”
Last April, Florida defeated Ohio State 84-75 to claim their second-straight national championship.
“To be 40 minutes away from winning the national championship and to lose it will always stick in a player’s head, but this definitely helped in getting over it,” senior guard Jamar Butler said, the only returning starter from both teams.
But that was then, this is now.
“Last year is over with, Butler said. “We got a win and that’s all that we concentrated on.”
The win moved the Buckeyes to 8-3 on the season with one non-conference game remaining, one final tune-up against Maryland-Baltimore County before the Big Ten portion of the season begins at Illinois on Jan. 3.
Even with temperatures soaring into the mid-50s outside The “V,” it took awhile for Ohio State to warm up inside.
Florida jumped out to a 9-2 lead following a nice, no-look pass from Nick Calathes to Alex Tyus for a dunk at the 14:30 mark of the first half.
For the first five and a half minutes, the Buckeyes connected on just one of their first eight shots as the Gators took control early.
Ohio State was a little sluggish coming out of the gates. Maybe it was due to playing in front of a sellout crowd, or on national television, or maybe it was because St. Nick is scheduled to make a visit just in three days. But whatever the reason, the Buckeyes shook off the jitters.
“I think we got past the shell-shock in the beginning when were not that sharp,” Matta said. “Once we figured it out defensively we managed to do some good things offensively. We moved the ball well and got some great looks at the basket.”
Ohio State went on a 10-2 run from that point to take their first lead of the game when Jon Diebler made a fine pass that resulted in a dunk by Kosta Koufos that put the Buckeyes ahead 12-11 with 10:42 left in the first half.
Florida regained an advantage briefly before David Lighty’s jumper tied the game at 15-all with 7:28 left, and on OSU’s next possession, Koufos gave the Buckeyes the lead for good on a running layup 25 seconds later.
Ohio State headed into the locker room at intermission leading 32-22, and their advantage never dropped into the single digits the rest of the game.
The Buckeyes’ biggest lead of the contest came with 3:19 remaining when Evan Turner drained a triple.
It was a tremendous effort on both ends of the floor for the Buckeyes as Ohio State held Florida to just 1-of-10 shooting from three-point range in the first half, and for the game the Gators were a mere 4-of-23 from beyond the arc.
Overall, the Gators shot just 33.3 percent (19-of-57) from the field.
Defensively, the biggest effort came against Calathes, Florida’s leading scorer coming into the game at 15.8 points per outing, who was held to just four points.
“Coach is always stressing our defense because our defense is what starts to get our offense going and it did that today,” Lighty said after the game, who helped keep Calathes in check.
Offensively, Koufos scored 17 points on 8-of-19 shooting from the floor to lead the Buckeyes, and he also had a team-high 10 rebounds for the dub-dub.
“My whole mental outlook has been more relaxed lately, and today I was able to get some more open looks because of that,” Koufos said.
Butler added 13 points and Lighty finished with 11.
Ohio State was 23-of-54 (42.6%) shooting from the field, and 7-of-17 (41.2%) from three-point range.
The Buckeyes also outrebounded the Gators 42-35.
Up next, Ohio State will host the University of Maryland-Baltimore County at Value City Arena at the way too early hour of 11 a.m., Saturday morning. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.