ESPN2 could have more affectively marketed Thursday night's Indianapolis Lawrence North-Dayton Dunbar game as an Ohio State PR opportunity. But in reality, it was mostly about Greg Oden.
"What can you say about him?" Dunbar head coach Peter Pullen said of Oden. "You saw why he's such a tough player."
Oden, the 7-0 center for Lawrence North, is widely considered the unanimous choice as the No. 1 basketball player in the country. On Thursday, the future Ohio State enforcer scored 23 points, grabbed 17 rebounds, blocked nine shots and influenced many others as Lawrence North defeated Dunbar 64-49.
Pullen and his Wolverines were heading home to Ohio amid an early winter snowstorm that was blanketing the Midwest. They had traveled 120 miles to Indianapolis and Butler University's historic Hinkle Fieldhouse for a chance to match up with one of the nation's top prep teams.
And Dunbar, which had to play the entire second half without standout Daequan Cook, gave Lawrence North quite a battle for three quarters before North pulled away down the stretch.
In addition to Oden, the game featured two other future Buckeyes in his high school teammate, 6-1 point guard Mike Conley and Dunbar's 6-5 Cook.
Cook left the game late in the first half as he took an accidental elbow from Oden, his future teammate, right in the cheekbone and never returned. He was taken to the hospital at halftime for x-rays while finishing with 11 points and three rebounds. Early indications are that he suffered a mild concussion.
But with all eyes on Oden, and Cook being gone for the second, the game appeared to be turning into quite a rout with Lawrence North holding a commanding 12-point halftime lead.
"Early in the game, we kind of shot ourselves in the foot," Pullen said. "I thought we gave up a lot of points, especially in the fast break. We had a lot of turnovers and mistakes."
However, it was not quite so anticlimactic in the second half even despite Dunbar missing its best player.
Behind 6-8 senior forward Mark Anderson, 6-8 junior center Aaron Pogue and 6-0 junior guard Norris Cole, the Wolverines began cutting into the Lawrence North lead. Early in the fourth quarter, a 10-0 run by Dunbar cut the lead to just three points.
"I called a timeout and just decided to try something else as we were down something like 12 points," Pullen recalled. "We saw we were causing some problems, we were creating some turnovers so I just said, ‘Let's go to man.' "
Dunbar was able to switch from a zone defense, which had been used most of the game to deny Oden the ball, and instead force pressure with tight man. It worked, forcing Lawrence North into several turnovers and taking advantage of Dunbar's up-tempo mentality.
However, once the lead was narrowed to three points, Conley – who finished with 13 points and seven rebounds -- and his cohorts stopped the bleeding.
Playing with a stomach flu that caused Conley to miss school on Wednesday, he stepped up his defense in the second half and forced several turnovers which led to a handful of fast break opportunities late in the game, allowing Lawrence North to secure the lead.
Pullen was encouraged with his team's performance in the second half, despite not having their best player in the lineup.
"I can't say enough on how hard our kids played," Pullen said. "We could have just quit, we could have folded with Daequan being out but we really stepped up tonight. Our kids played well."
Beyond the non-stop discussion of Oden by ESPN2 announcers Mark Jones, Fran Fraschilla and Jay Williams, everything turned up Buckeye.
Fraschilla, a former Ohio State assistant coach in the 1980's, said on the air he wished he was still coaching at Ohio State with the guys they had coming in next season.
Williams, the former Duke star whose parents were graduates of Ohio State, also chimed in saying how he wanted to go to Ohio State out of high school.
Of course, he chose Duke and the rest is inconsequential.
The winter storm apparently forced OSU head coach Thad Matta to cancel his plans to attend this special game in person.
But despite all of the Ohio State talk, there was a game played between two pretty good teams. Now, both Dunbar and Lawrence North will press on their quest for state championships in Ohio's Division II and Indiana's Class 4A, respectively.
Dunbar (2-1) will await word on the status of Cook but can find some upside to the loss to Lawrence North (5-0). Namely, the play of guys like Pogue who stepped up and didn't back down against Oden and the rest of the Wildcats.
"They didn't back down," Pullen noted. "We weren't going to back down. We were trying our best hoping to take it to Oden and hopefully get him in foul trouble."
Fortunately for the Wolverines, they won't have to cross paths with Lawrence North again this season – or more aptly, "The Greg Oden Show."