In the second round of the NCAA Tournament, it showed. The second-seeded Buckeyes (29-7) withstood a tough first half before pulling way in the second stanza for a 75-66 victory against the 10th-seeded Yellow Jackets (23-13). With the win, the Buckeyes are headed to St. Louis for a date with Tennessee in the Sweet 16. It is OSU's first Sweet 16 appearance since the 2006-07 season.
"It's exciting," head coach Thad Matta said. "We told our guys we wanted to win this two-game tournament in Milwaukee and then go on to St. Louis. These guys have done a good job of keeping the focus."
In the first half, it was the Evan Turner show as the junior guard put up 14 points. In the second half, it was a team effort but junior guard Jon Dieblerled the charge.
After Diebler was 0 for 3 from behind the three-point arc in the first half, he knocked down four second-half triples and scored 17 of his 20 points in the second half. But in looking at the difference between the two halves, Turner said it was all about the Buckeyes forcing their style of play on the Yellow Jackets.
"I just think (the offense) was effective because we had control of the game," he said. "In the first half, they sped us up and had control of the game but once we got the control back everything was fine."
After shooting 34.6 percent (9 for 26) in the first half, OSU was 16 for 25 (64.0 percent) in the second. The Buckeyes has 17 assists on 25 field goals.
Turner finished with a game-high 24 points. Diebler was close behind with 20, while junior forward David Lighty added 18. Turner also came one assist and rebound short of his third triple-double of the season.
OSU entered the game at a size disadvantage, with the Yellow Jackets starting two players who stood at least 6-9. To counter, OSU had 6-8 Dallas Lauderdale and 6-5 Lighty, and their athleticism turned a mismatch into an advantage for the Buckeyes.
ACC rookie of the year Derrick Favors (6-10) fouled out with 10 points – all in the second half – and did not have a shot in the first 20 minutes. Likewise, junior forward Gani Lawal (6-9) played with foul trouble all game and finished with a team-high 11 points in 21 minutes.
"Our defense was real key for us," Lighty said. "Then on the offensive end we got them in foul trouble because we knew they were going to have to guard us. We just attacked them and got them in foul trouble early."
The final outcome seemed all but assured a few minutes into the second half, but the Yellow Jackets mounted a final charge in the last five minutes. After a three-pointer from Diebler made it 65-50 in favor of OSU, Georgia Tech turned two OSU turnovers into five quick points to whittle it down to a 10-point deficit with 3:22 remaining.
It was the start of an 11-0 run capped by a three-point play from forward Derrick Favors, who made it 65-61 with 1:47 left. However, Turner tossed in a pair of free throws to push it back to a six-point lead and Georgia Tech would get no closer than five points the rest of the way.
With their lead at two points, the Buckeyes opened the second half with a new shot of energy. The teams traded consecutive baskets to make the score 32-30 before Lighty buried a wide-open three pointer from the left corner.
It was the start of a 14-2 run in which four Buckeyes had at least one basket. The capper was a fast-break dunk from sophomore guard William Buford that forced Georgia Tech to call a timeout with 12:46 remaining and OSU leading 46-32.
The Yellow Jackets would answer with a 7-0 run of their own to make it 46-39 in less than a minute and a half, but Diebler scored off an inbounds play and drew the foul with 11:17 left. When he hit the free throw, it pushed the lead back to 10.
Turner was the primary offensive weapon in the first half, taking 15 of OSU's 26 shots. Teammates Lighty, Buford and Diebler were a combined 2 for 10, with Lighty coming up with both field goals.
He did so despite being continually harassed by the Georgia Tech defenders, who were content to run up their foul totals while relying on their deep bench to provide enough fresh bodies to keep up the pursuit.
Early on, it worked.
Georgia Tech came out in a full-court press that saw two defenders hounding Turner every step of the way as he attempted to bring the ball up the court. It was instrumental in keeping OSU off the scoreboard early.
"They just tried to really be physical with me," he said. "That was it."
The Buckeyes fell behind by eight points early as the Yellow Jackets came out of the gate with a 10-2 lead. After trading baskets for four straight possessions, it was a 14-6 Georgia Tech lead before OSU mounted a comeback.
When Diebler hit three free throws to make it 14-9 with 11:43 left, the Buckeyes were within five despite having gone 2 for 9 from the floor – a figure that included misses on all five three-point attempts.
Turner put an end to that on the next possession with a trey to pull within two, but OSU would not earn its first lead of the game until the 7:27 mark. Then, it was a nifty three-point play from Turner on a scoop shot near the basket that put his team on top.
That basket capped a 13-2 run during which Turner was responsible for eight points. Georgia Tech would climb back ahead at 22-19, but OSU closed the half on a 9-4 run to head into the break with a 28-26 lead.