COLUMBUS — Ohio State got its revenge against Florida on Saturday, but the sweet part is going to have to wait.
Vanquished by the Gators twice last season, the final time in the national championship game, the Buckeyes finally beat Florida, winning 62-49 in front of a near-sellout crowd of 19,049 fans at Value City Arena.
But OSU was prevented from extracting premium payback, thanks to the reduced stage and the departure of the majority of star power from the Buckeyes’ and Gators’ heralded 2006-07 editions.
Still, for a maturing Ohio State team, it was a confidence-building win that was far from insignificant.
“This was a big win for our guys,” said OSU coach Thad Matta. “We’re doing some things better than we did a week ago. I don’t think we’re exactly where we want to be, but we’re doing things that make me believe we’re heading in that direction.”
It was Ohio State’s fourth straight victory, improving the Buckeyes to 8-3 overall, with their Big Ten season set to begin Jan. 3 at Illinois. Florida, which has faced little competition thus far, lost for the first time in its last seven games, falling to 11-2 in their road debut.
“It was kind of a role reversal of the national championship game,” said Florida coach Billy Donovan of Ohio State’s accuracy (7-of-17) from beyond the 3-point line, which mirrored the Gators’ long-range marksmanship in March. “Our guys competed. Give Ohio State credit for the defense and the way they played.”
Much of the luster from the OSU-UF rematch was gone due to the noteworthy departures and with both teams entering the fray unranked and unheralded on a national scope.
Ohio State’s Jamar Butler was the only returning starter from the 10 that opened the national title game in Atlanta and featured a plethora of first-round NBA draft picks — OSU’s Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Daequan Cook and Florida’s Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer.
“I don’t think so,” said Butler, when asked if the victory over Florida held any extra significance. “It’s a new year and we’re a different team. It is special though, because we get to go to the Christmas break with a win.”
The Gators are without a senior in the lineup, starting two sophomores, two freshmen and a junior, while Ohio State employs a pair of seniors in Butler and forward Othello Hunter, junior David Lighty and two frosh in 7-foot center Kosta Koufos and guard Evan Turner.
That cast of characters favored the Buckeyes, who after a rough beginning, took control and never let go.
Ohio State missed its first six shots and failed to convert on its opening seven possessions, but was able to track down the Gators at the 10:39 mark of the first half via a 10-2 run that was capped by a dish and dunk in transition from Lighty to Koufos that gave the Buckeyes their first lead.
Ohio State poured it on from there, scoring 20 of the last 27 points to take a 32-22 advantage at intermission.
OSU’s lead reached as high as 18 points in the second half, with the Gators coming no closer than 58-47 on a steal and layup from Walter Hodge with just under two minutes left.
An inspired defensive effort that held the Gators to 33.3 percent shooting from the field and their lowest point total of the season was at the root of the Buckeye win.
“I think we were letting them do what they wanted in the first four minutes,” Lighty said. “We kind of took over after that and it was just attack mode.”
“I think we were a little shell-shocked at the start with nerves or something,” Matta said. “Once the guys figured out was going on defensively, they did a nice job.”
Koufos struggled early but found the mark in the second half, where he scored 12 of his game-high 17 points, joining Butler (13) and Lighty (11) in double figures. He added a game-high 10 rebounds
Sophomore center Marreese Speights led the Gators with 12 points, while freshman guard Jai Lucas added 11.
“I though Kosta was really good,” Matta said. “He rebounded with great viciousness in the second half. I think he settled down after the first couple shots he took.”
Ohio State returns to action next Saturday, hosting Maryland-Baltimore County before traveling to Champaign, Ill., for an 8 p.m. tip-off on ESPN.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ohio State 62, Florida 49
FLORIDA (11-2): Werner 1-8 0-0 2, Calathes 1-9 2-4 4, Speights 5-10 2-3 12, Lucas 4-9 1-2 11, Hodge 2-7 0-0 5, Mitchell 2-2 0-0 5, Allen 1-2 0-0 2, Tyus 1-2 0-0 2, Parsons 2-8 2-4 6. Totals 19-57 7-13 49.
OHIO STATE (8-3): Koufos 8-19 1-3 17, Hunter 1-4 0-0 2, Butler 4-12 2-2 13, Turner 1-4 1-1 4, Lighty 4-7 3-3 11, Diebler 2-4 0-3 6, Terwilliger 3-4 0-0 7, Lauderdale 0-0 2-2 2. Totals 23-54 9-14 62.
Halftime—Ohio State 32-22. 3-Point Goals—Florida 4-23 (Lucas 2-5, Mitchell 1-1, Hodge 1-3, Allen 0-1, Werner 0-4, Parsons 0-4, Calathes 0-5), Ohio State 7-17 (Butler 3-7, Diebler 2-4, Turner 1-1, Terwilliger 1-2, Lighty 0-1, Koufos 0-2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Florida 35 (Parsons 8), Ohio State 42 (Koufos 10). Assists—Florida 12 (Calathes 6), Ohio State 16 (Butler 5). Total Fouls—Florida 19, Ohio State 16. A—19,049.