So much for that Southeastern Conference speed.
In a game that was billed as a chance for revenge against a team that boasted three high-profile wins against Ohio State in the last year, the Buckeyes turned on the gas against Florida and defeated the visiting Gators, 62-49, in a rematch of last season’s national championship game.
In short, the Buckeyes looked quicker and faster than their opponent and it showed on the final scoreboard.
“A little bit, I guess you could say,” OSU sophomore swingman David Lighty said when asked if the Buckeyes had a speed advantage. “They had a lot of big guys who were like shooters, so I guess our penetration helped us out a little bit today, helping people get shots.”
One season ago, Florida beat OSU twice on the hardwood and once in the BCS National Championship Game in football. The energized crowd at Value City Arena wanted revenge, and by the time the final whistle had sounded they had received some.
With OSU fans mimicking Florida’s “Gator Chomp,” the Buckeyes (8-3) never trailed by more than 10 in the second half and held the Gators (11-2) to just 33.3 percent (19 of 57) from the floor.
One day after mentioning that his team might have to consider shifting out of its typical 3-2 zone defense due to Florida’s ability to shoot from beyond the arc, the Buckeyes instead used their speed to keep the Gators off balance.
Frequently facing a shot clock winding down to the final seconds, Florida went 4 of 23 (17.4 percent) from beyond the arc. Entering the game, they had been shooting 40.3 percent from beyond the arc.
“I don’t think that our guys took a lot of bad shots,” Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. “I was encouraging those guys with about seven minutes to go to take the open threes that were there. I didn’t see our team in the second half shooting with great confidence.”
After a dismal start that saw the Buckeyes go just 1 of 9 from the floor, things turned around in a hurry for the home team. Using their defense as a catalyst for their stagnant offense early, the Buckeyes fought back and claimed a 12-11 lead on a dunk by freshman center Kosta Koufos with 10:42 remaining in the first half.
With the score knotted at 15, OSU took off. Koufos backed his man down and scored to give the Buckeyes the lead and forcing Donovan to call a timeout in an attempt to stem the 5-0 OSU run.
It didn’t work. Freshman guard Jon Diebler promptly stole the ball from Florida guard Jai Lucas and pushed it upcourt, where the Buckeyes moved the ball around the perimeter and found senior forward Matt Terwilliger in the corner. He considered the shot but kicked it back out to the wing, where Butler was waiting.
He buried the trey and pushed the lead to five. It would be the start of a 14-3 run capped by a Diebler three pointer that made it 29-18 Buckeyes with 2:42 left in the half and saw them arguably playing their toughest basketball of the season.
After turning the ball over on the offensive side of the court Terwilliger came back down on defense and soundly blocked a shot giving the Buckeyes a fast break that was finished by a basket by Lighty.
It was that kind of run for the Buckeyes, who improved to 6-4 overall against the Gators.
“We always talk about raising the intensity of our defense,” Lighty said. “Coach (Matta) is always stressing to play as hard as you can on defense. Our defense gets our offense going. That’s when we start fast-breaking and things like that and getting the easy buckets.”
After putting an increased emphasis during practice on grabbing more rebounds, the Buckeyes finished with a 42-36 edge on the glass against the Gators.
“That’s the main thing we’ve been working on defensively for our big men,” said Koufos, who had a game-high 10 rebounds. “We’ve been practicing hard in practice. All the post players before practice, we do rebounding drills, which help. We’ve been outrebounded by several teams this year and we just did not let that happen again.”
Koufos also led the Buckeyes with 17 points, recording his second career double-double. Senior guard Jamar Butler had 13 points while Lighty added 11. Senior forward Matt Terwilliger had seven points, five rebounds and two assists off the bench for OSU.
Florida was led by center Marreese Speights, who had 12 points on 5 of 10 shooting. Guard Jai Lucas added 11.
With a win heading into Christmas break, Butler said he can enjoy this year’s vacation more than he did last year’s.
“Last year on Christmas Day all I could think about was getting beat by (28) points,” he said. “It feels good to be a win. I can go home and everything will be positive now.”