Few of the 13,276 folks in historic St. John Arena recall the 1960 National Championship game, but it didn't take away from the nostalgic feel Monday night.
The sellout crowd, there to witness a rematch of the first meeting 48 years between California and Ohio State, cranked up the electricity and watched the Buckeyes cruise to a 73-56 second round victory in the Master Card N.I.T.
"I think it could only be described as electric," said Ohio State head coach Thad Matta in his postgame press conference. "When the Schott is rocking, it's one of the loudest arenas in the country, but it's always unique when you play in a place with this much history."
The Golden Bears, not to be confused with legendary OSU golf alum Jack Nicklaus, looked like they were distracted more by the Bruce Springsteen concert occupying the Schottenstein Center just across the Olentangy River. Accordingly, Ohio State (21-13) played arguably its most complete game since November, ironically enough against Syracuse in the Preseason N.I.T. at Madison Square Garden.
And now, Ohio State is one game away from returning to the Garden.
Before the Buckeyes can look ahead to the Big Apple, they have to look down I-70. Ohio State's next opponent, Dayton, beat Illinois State Monday 55-48 setting up an Ohio quarterfinal showdown Wednesday night.
The Flyers, like Ohio State, boast a sensational senior guard. Brian Roberts, 6-1 of perennial Northwest-Ohio powerhouse Toledo St. John's, led Dayton in points (18.5) and assists (3.6) per game this season. He's a 45-percent shooter from long-range.
But making UD even more dangerous is the return of freshman forward Chris Wright, back from knee surgery after missing 18 games. Dayton began the season 14-1 with him in the lineup, including wins against NCAA Tournament qualifiers Coppin State, American, Pittsburgh and at Louisville.
Ohio State had a bigger challenge on their hands Monday, both literally and figuratively. The Buckeyes passed with flying colors.
Honorable mention All-American, 6-10 California sophomore Ryan Anderson, was touted as one of the toughest frontcourt foes faced all season for Ohio State. However, Ohio State limited Anderson to 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting.
"It was an off-night for me. I can't say it was all me," Anderson commented afterword. "(Ohio State) played great defense the entire game."
Bigger than Ohio State's defense, holding California to 40 percent from the floor and 6-of-20 from 3-point range was the rebounding. The Buckeyes, who have been sluggish on the glass all season, out-rebounded the bigger, more athletic Golden Bear frontline 38-31, including 14 offensive rebounds.
Senior forward Othello Hunter recorded a double-double with 11 points and 16 rebounds. Jamar Butler, who will be tasked with the showdown against Roberts Wednesday, continued his recent surge trying to leave Ohio State in style – 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting and a trio of assists.
"Jamar knocked down a couple of threes late in the (first) half which is a big reason we won tonight," Matta added.
Ohio State faces Dayton for the first time since December 17, 1988 –a game won 104-76 by the Buckeyes behind 24 points by Jay Burson. The all-time series is led 3-2 by Ohio State, with Dayton's victories coming in (former OSU head coach) Gary Williams' first two seasons as coach.
When California Had the Ball
*The Bears never really adjusted to the Ohio State zone until the Buckeyes unloaded the bench in the closing moments. California had just 10 assists on 23-made field goals, a number indicative of stagnant ball-movement. The Buckeyes were soft on the perimeter early on, giving California several open looks, but the Bears never fully cashed-in on the opportunities.
*Ohio State's attention to big men Anderson, Eric Viemeisel and DeVon Hardin was pronounced. The trio combined on just 17 points and 17 rebounds on 7-of-22 shooting. Though Ohio State blocked just three shots, the Buckeyes altered several more and contested nearly every baseline entry pass.
*Perhaps the biggest mistake by California was never getting Jerome Randle uncorked. Against the extended pressure defense, Randle's quickness and explosion off the dribble could have caused Ohio State many problems. However, his 18 points came mostly in garbage time, and he failed to exploit the wide-open middle of the floor on the offensive end.
*Further complicating issues for Cal was when the big men finally touched the ball inside, they often passed up wide-open kick-out opportunities to guards on the perimeter. The Bears' inside-outside game was the only hope of resurrecting a 35-23 halftime deficit – which quickly climbed to 41-23 after a 6-0 Buckeye run to begin the second half.
*Turnovers, which have been problematic for California all season, were again an issue against Ohio State's full-court pressure. During the 17-4 Ohio State run to close out the first half especially, California had several mistakes igniting the partisan OSU crowd. For the game, California committed 16 turnovers.
When Ohio State Had the Ball
*For 14 minutes, the Buckeyes had shot relatively poor and trailed 19-18 accordingly. However, the turning point may have been a crucial offensive rebound and monster one-handed dunk by Kosta Koufos with 6:20 remaining in the first half, starting the Buckeyes on the 17-4 run. From that moment on, Ohio State finished the half 7-of-11 from the field, including the two daggers from Butler Matta mentioned.
*Koufos was the unsung hero Monday. The 7-1 freshman, who's quietly gained confidence as well as a smile on the court, finished with 17 points and six rebounds in a very efficient 31 minutes on the floor. Koufos made a few terrific fade-away jumpers, went 1-of-2 from 3-point range and contributed with a pair of assists against zero turnovers.
*It was the thought that counts: Jon Diebler had the right idea, but maybe next year. Sensing the Bears' man-to-man defense was softer than Charmin, it was actually the 6-5 freshman sharpshooter-in-waiting that put the ball on the deck and tried to penetrate his way out of missed shots. The result, however, was a turnover and several more errant passes that nearly caused loss in possessions. His 0-of-5 from the field was even more disheartening considering he had several open looks. Evan Turner and David Lighty both attempted to drive quite often, though they combined on eight additional turnovers. Nonetheless, Ohio State had a good balance of timely shooting, dribble penetration and clutch second-chance opportunities to pull-away.
*Speaking of Lighty, his late resurgence continued Monday, scoring 8 points, grabbing four rebounds, dishing out four assists and picking four steals. You might say it was fours wild for Lighty.
*Perhaps the biggest benefit of all to Ohio State was keeping Butler fresh for the short turn-around. Playing just 48 hours from the end of the game, the Buckeyes played Butler just 28 minutes – his second fewest minutes played in a game all season. Instead of what was perceived to be late-season wobbly legs, Butler has actually gotten stronger over the past five games.