MILWAUKEE – Last season, Ohio State knew it was an accomplishment that it had made the NCAA Tournament. This season, the same could be said for its first-round opponent.
The second-seeded Buckeyes had the game in hand at halftime and closed it out from there, bouncing UC Santa Barbara from the tournament with a 68-51 victory.
The Gauchos were not successful in pulling off the upset, but they were successful in keeping OSU junior guard and Big Ten player of the year Evan Turner from being effective. Turner was limited to nine points and 10 boards on 2 for 13 shooting. Instead, the star was junior guard Jon Diebler.
This week, Diebler battled the flu for several days and had to leave Thursday’s practice after 15 minutes because he got sick. Showing no ill effects, the junior went the distance and scored 23 points aided by seven three-pointers.
“I felt better today,” he said. “I was finally able to eat. I got a lot of my energy back. I got tired during the game, but, again, I think for the most part I was all right. But it was a long process, that's for sure.”
Head coach Thad Matta quipped that it was a 24-hour flu that took Diebler 72 hours to shake.
“Once he got going tonight, we were in constant contact if he was okay – and, honestly, he could lose his right arm and he wouldn't tell me he was injured,” the coach said. “(That’s) just sort of who he is. But when he made a couple and he had the one that I thought was going in that bounced around and around, he was in good shape.”
After a 5-0 Gaucho run to open the second half made it a 30-22 OSU lead, the Buckeyes used a 12-5 run to open up at 15-point lead. From there, UCSB could get no closer than 10 points as the Buckeyes saw their lead climb as high as 18 points.
When Diebler was not scoring, junior center Dallas Lauderdale was doing everything else. The junior center set new career highs with 12 rebounds and eight blocks in 30 minutes of action.
“Coach sort of held my head under water last night,” he said. “We had a little conversation. I had to come out and get the job done or he would have been down my throat.”
The Buckeyes (28-7) seized control early against the Gauchos (20-10) and withstood a counterpunch that made it a one-point game near the midway point of the first half. After racing out to a 13-3 lead, OSU went cold as UCSB rallied.
The Gauchos shook off a 1-for-10 performance from the field to open the game – during which they also committed four fouls and two turnovers – to put together a 9-0 run that made it 13-12 with 8:47 remaining.
The teams would trade foul shots before Diebler hit on a runner along the right baseline that pushed his team’s lead to 16-13. It was the start of a 13-0 run during which all but two points came courtesy of Diebler.
The school’s all-time leading three-point shooter proved his wares by hitting on three consecutive threes to close out the run and force UCSB to call timeout.
That made it 27-13, and after the Gauchos got a basket from Orlando Johnson OSU got three free throws from Turner sandwiched around a James Nunnally dunk to close out the half. The Big Ten player of the year was held to five points on 1 for 6 shooting in the half as the Gauchos went to great lengths to prevent him from driving the basket.
Diebler’s 14 first-half points led the way, but OSU got some big play out of Lauderdale as well. Facing a lineup that often included 7-3 Greg Somogyi, the 6-8 Lauderdale had five blocks, four rebounds and two steals.
UCSB’s 17 first-half points tied a season low allowed by the Buckeyes.
Sophomore guard William Buford added 16 points on 6 of 12 shooting as the only Buckeye aside from Diebler to score in double figures. UCSB got 20 points from Orlando Johnson and 11 off the bench from James Powell, who hit on 3 of 7 three-point attempts.
Each of the seven Buckeyes to see action scored at least three points. Senior guard P.J. Hill chipped in four after replacing Turner with 3:30 to play.
With the win, the Buckeyes advance to the second round of the tournament and will face No. 10 seed Georgia Tech on Sunday.
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