ATLANTA — What if someone told you Ohio State star center Greg Oden would play three minutes of the first half because of foul trouble, not score his first basket until 18 minutes left in the game, and the Buckeyes would win without even needing a last-second shot?
Well guess what ...
After spending most of the first half in cold-storage, Oden scored all 13 of his points after intermission, lifting Ohio State to a 67-60, national semifinal victory against Georgetown at the Georgia Dome on Saturday.
"I was out 17 minutes," Oden said of his frustration. "I just wanted to get in there and tear the rim down."
The victory forwarded Ohio State (35-3) into Monday night's national title game against Florida, which defeated UCLA in the other semifinal. Georgetown goes home at 30-7.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday April 04, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
College basketball: A photo in Sunday's Sports section showing Ohio State's Greg Oden shooting over Georgetown's Jeff Green was mistakenly credited to the Associated Press. It was by Times staff photographer Rob Gauthier.
Ohio State also made it to the title game in football this season -- they hope it goes better in basketball.
Ohio State is seeking its first national basketball title since 1960, the Jerry Lucas-led team that featured a bench player named Bob Knight.
Many predicted Saturday's game would come down to how the officials would mediate a showdown involving Oden, the 7-foot freshman, and 7-2 Georgetown junior Roy Hibbert.
It was clear from the outset the referees would call a tight game. Oden picked up two fouls inside three minutes and had to go to the bench, but Georgetown couldn't take advantage.
Hibbert joined Oden on the bench after picking up his second foul with 6:48 left and the rest of the game was a chess match with both coaches trying to figure out how to deploy their big men.
Hibbert played only 10 minutes in the first half and only 24 of 40 in the game.
"I was at the wrong place at the wrong time," Hibbert said. "I just needed to make smarter decisions when I was out there."
Oden played only half the game, 20 minutes, and both players ended with four fouls.
What happened? "The ref blew the whistle," Oden explained.
In Oden's first-half absence, fellow freshman and former high school teammate Mike Conley Jr. took control, scoring 11 points to help Ohio State to a four-point halftime lead. Conley finished with 15.
Buckeyes Coach Thad Matta clapped his hands as he ran off the court at intermission, knowing Conley's effort had bought his team the lead and some time.
"Our guys did a great job stepping up," Matta said. "Michael was tremendous."
Foul trouble would dictate almost every second-half move.
The pivotal point came with the score tied, 44-44, with 8:50 left, when Hibbert had to leave after picking up his fourth foul. Matta immediately put Oden, with three fouls, back in the game.
In the next 90 seconds, Ohio State went on a 6-0 run that started with an Oden basket.
The Buckeyes made it 51-44 when Oden made one of two free throws after missing on a windmill slam-dunk attempt.
The closest Georgetown would get was 56-52, after a Jesse Sapp three-point basket with 3:21 left.
Ohio State senior guard Ron Lewis made four free throws in the last 35 seconds to help secure the win.
The Oden vs. Hibbert match-up only partly lived up to its billing -- the two players weren't on the court enough to call a clear-cut winner.
Hibbert finished with 19 points and six rebounds, and Oden had 13 and nine.
The big mystery for Georgetown was the play of junior forward Jeff Green.
Green, who averages 14.4 points, did not take an official shot until 3:16 left in the first half. He took only five shots, making four. In the previous three games, Green had taken 40 shots. He finished with nine points Saturday.
Georgetown Coach John Thompson III said Green had a knack for dominating a game without scoring -- Green did have 12 rebounds -- but the Hoyas could have used more offense.
"It was clearly a factor," Thompson said of Green's lack of production. "They did a good job taking it away from him."
Even Ohio State players were shocked Green didn't shoot more.
"We were pleased with the way he wanted to play that game," Conley said. "He could have took over the game any time, any point."
Green said he was just playing his normal game.
"I went four for five," Green said. "I didn't want to force anything so I just took what they gave me."