Defense Could Win Championship For OSU

The old saying that "defense wins championships" wouldn't be an old saying if it wasn't true, and the Ohio State men's basketball team says its opening two wins in the NCAA Tournament continue to prove that maxim even as the Buckeyes lit up the scoreboard to reach the Sweet 16.

When Dallas Lauderdale was asked why the Ohio State men's basketball team got off to a slow start against George Mason on Sunday, he had a quick answer.

"The thing was, we weren't playing defense," the senior center said. "We were allowing them to feel good. We were allowing them to gain confidence, gain hope and making them feel that they can hang with us. That was our fault. We weren't playing good defense, and that's something we have to change."

After the Patriots got off to an 11-2 start in the third-round NCAA tournament game, Ohio State countered with a 50-15 run that made sure the game was over at halftime – much to the delight of a sellout crowd in Cleveland.

But while many were left amazed by the way Ohio State got to 50 so effortlessly, Lauderdale's statement highlighted that the 15 was just as important a stat.

Defense helped ignite the Buckeyes' dominance, and Ohio State truly pulled away with a 25-4 run during which George Mason – which led the Colonial Athletic Association in scoring and shooting during the season – didn't make a field goal.

The Patriots went nearly 10 minutes without a basket from the field, ending the streak only in the last 30 seconds with a layup that broke a streak of nine straight missed shots and five turnovers. By then, the game was largely out of hand.

"We were kind of expecting we were going to be able to score the ball better than we did, but their defense was very, very good," GMU head coach Jim Larranaga said. "They put a lot of pressure on us, and we were not able to get the quality shots that we're used to getting."

It was the second game in a row in which Ohio State – which had the second stingiest scoring D in the Big Ten this season – used its defense to pull away. UTSA opened a 9-5 lead early in its game and hung with the Buckeyes for much of the first half, finally falling by the wayside when OSU kept them scoreless for more than five minutes in the latter stages of the opening stanza in a game the Buckeyes went on to win 75-46.

That win coupled with the domination of George Mason prompted some to suggest Ohio State, the top seed, was a clear favorite after its first two games, but guard William Buford said that was only true with a caveat.

"If we come out with the mind-set that we're going to play and lockdown on defense, we can play with the best of them," he said. "If we do that, our offense is going to fall into place."

In fact, much of OSU's offensive prowess – including a number of school records and OSU postseason records for shooting and assists – through the first two games could be attached the defense. Though the Buckeyes didn't exactly run the floor on the fast break, they did push the ball after misses and forced turnovers and initiated the offense quickly, often before the opposition could get set.

"Defense is important because we love to get out and run in transition," senior Jon Diebler said. "There's no better way to get out and run than getting a stop. Even when teams get shots off and we get the rebounds, we're very confident with our ability to push the basketball and create mismatches. It's hard to match up with us in transition. That's something we take a lot of pride in."

Of course, that was missing in the early going against the Patriots. Mike Morrison scored for GMU on its opening possession, then the Patriots scored twice on second-chance points and twice after turnovers by Jared Sullinger.

Ohio State then nailed a three before Buford stole the ball from Morrison and went coast to coast to make the score 11-7. Next came the first media timeout, at which point Thad Matta made sure his team knew it could continue to come back through its defense.

"He knew we weren't playing hard on defense," Buford said. "We weren't getting 50-50 balls and they were beating us to rebounds."

"We just weren't playing with enough energy on defense," Diebler said.

By the time the half had come to a close, George Mason had nine turnovers and was 10 for 27 from the field including 2 for 8 from behind the three-point line.

With Kentucky, Marquette and North Carolina still alive in OSU's East bracket, that strong defense will continue to be essential.

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