Green turns invisible for Georgetown
ATLANTA -- Late Friday night, before the Ohio State players went to sleep in their hotel, Buckeyes coach Thad Matta wanted four of the Buckeyes to know the challenge they faced against Georgetown's Jeff Green in Saturday's national semifinal at the Georgia Dome.
For 10 minutes, Matta and his assistants showed Green's video highlights to forwards Ivan Harris, David Lighty, Matt Terwilliger and Othello Hunter, the four players who would be charged with defending the Big East Conference Player of the Year at some point in the game.
"I don't know if I've slept worrying about him," Matta said.
But the Buckeyes apparently slept pretty well Friday night. With Matta employing a 2-3 zone and matchup zone throughout the contest, Green was bottled up during Ohio State's 67-60 victory, which advanced it to Monday night's national championship game for the first time since 1962.
With the Buckeyes hounding him, Green scored only nine points on 4-for-5 shooting and wasn't much of a factor, at least on the offensive end, for the Hoyas. He also grabbed 12 rebounds and had three assists and three turnovers in 40 minutes.
"People came up and told us how that was going to be the key to the game and how Jeff Green was going to demolish us," Lighty said. "We just went out and played hard."
The Buckeyes did some of their best defensive work even when freshman center Greg Oden was plagued by foul trouble. Oden, a first-team All-American, missed most of the first half for the third game in a row. He picked up his first foul on the Buckeyes' second possession for a moving screen, then was called for his second foul for a charge with 17:19 left. Oden went to the bench and sat the rest of the half.
"I hated the fact we played the first seven games without Greg," said Matta, referring to the start of the season, when the 7-footer was sidelined while recovering from surgery on his right wrist. "But today is another example of where it probably helped us because those guys never skipped a beat. They just came in there and got the job done."
Green seemingly always got the job done for the Hoyas this season, but he never found his rhythm against Ohio State and, truth be told, vanished for most of the game.
Green didn't score in the first half until there was 3:16 left to play. He scored on three consecutive possessions, one at the foul line, to pull the Hoyas within 27-23 at the half, but then didn't score in the first 13½ minutes of the second half. Green made a layup to cut Ohio State's lead to 51-46 with 6:11 remaining and didn't score again until the Buckeyes led by nine points with 44.8 seconds left.
Afterward, Green said he wouldn't have changed the way he approached the game.
"I didn't want to force anything, so I just took what they gave me," Green said. "They played great help-side defense with the other guy helping on the weak side. It made it hard for my teammates to throw it down or try to find me. You've got to credit their defense. They played together."
Buckeyes point guard Mike Conley Jr. said he was surprised Green wasn't more aggressive during the game.
"We were pleased with the way he wanted to play that game," Conley said. "He could have took over the game any time, any point. I think it's some credit to the way we played defense and the way we had our game plan focused around him."
Lighty said the Buckeyes wanted to speed up the tempo against Georgetown, which prefers to run its version of the Princeton offense and execute out of half-court sets. But Ohio State ran whenever possible, forcing the Hoyas into 14 turnovers. The Buckeyes converted those miscues into 22 points; Georgetown scored 10 points off eight Ohio State turnovers.
"The defensive game plan was to try and speed them up and get them out of their rhythm," Lighty said. "We wanted to clog up the post and not allow as many backdoor cuts, which is what they did against us last year."
Georgetown defeated Ohio State 70-52 in the second round of the 2006 NCAA Tournament.
"Their defense was very good in many ways," Hoyas coach John Thompson III said. "We had too many turnovers, which didn't allow us to get shots at the basket, which didn't allow us to get into a rhythm. That just comes down to the defense that they played. I don't necessarily think it was so much offensive execution. We just, you know, turned the ball over at key times, which is not indicative of how this team has played. You have to give them credit for causing that to happen."
The Hoyas certainly could have used more production from Green, especially when center Roy Hibbert was saddled by foul trouble. Hibbert picked up his first foul on Ohio State's first possession, his second with 6:48 to go in the half. Hibbert went to the bench and sat the rest of the half.
So with Hibbert and Oden each sitting out more than nine minutes of the first half, the much anticipated matchup of big men in this Final Four never really materialized.
Hibbert was still more productive than Green in fewer minutes, scoring 19 points on 9-for-13 shooting with six rebounds and one blocked shot.
Oden said he was impressed with the 7-foot-2 junior.
"He shot over me a bunch of times, so you saw what he can do," Oden said. "All I care about is we won. That's really all that matters."
Oden scored 13 points on 6-for-11 shooting with nine rebounds and one blocked shot. It was the third straight game in which he played fewer than 25 minutes (he played 18 and 24 minutes during victories over Tennessee and Memphis, respectively).
"I always know my team can win without me," Oden said. "I have faith in them. I just want to be out there."
Mark Schlabach covers college football and basketball for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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