for this game

Ohio State survives Tennessee with huge comeback

Mar 23, 2007 - 7:01 AM SAN ANTONIO (Ticker) -- Ohio State's great escape against Xavier was just a warm-up act.

Ron Lewis scored 25 points to spark a stirring comeback as the top-seeded Buckeyes rallied from a 20-point deficit to overcome fifth-seeded Tennessee, 85-84, in an NCAA Tournament South Region semifinal.

With freshman phenom center Greg Oden in foul trouble and a non-factor for much of the game, the Buckeyes (33-3) advanced to a regional final matchup with second-seeded Memphis for the right to go to the Final Four.

Oden did put a punctuation mark on the victory, blocking a layup attempt by freshman Ramar Smith at the buzzer to seal Ohio State's 20th straight victory.

"In this tournament, the two most important words are survive and advance," Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said. "And we've been very fortunate the past two games to do both of those things."

Very fortunate indeed. Lewis saved Ohio State's season by hitting a dramatic 3-pointer with two seconds left against Xavier in the second round, forcing an overtime session that the Buckeyes dominated.

That paled in comparison to the hole Ohio State found itself in against Tennessee, which unleashed a 3-point blitz to assume a 49-29 lead with 29 seconds left in the first half.

"We played as well in the first half, I think, as we can play," Vols coach Bruce Pearl said. "These young men did a terrific job. We're a dangerous basketball team."

The Volunteers hit 9-of-15 shots from the arc in the opening 20 minutes, including three apiece by Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith, to all but buckle the Buckeyes' knees.

"When they're making shots like that, I had the thought in my mind at one point during the first half - a little bit like Georgetown last year - if they play like this they're going to win it all," Matta said of Tennessee. "The foul trouble, we were disheveled. We never got into a rhythm or flow. And quite honestly, they punched us so hard, we were at the nine count."

Lewis, one of two seniors on Ohio State, came out in the second half and started to punch back, scoring 13 points in the first 8 1/2 minutes to shred the 17-point halftime deficit to 59-57 with 11:34 to play.

"It was real important for us to come out aggressive," Lewis said. "That was going to set the tone for the second half.

"Their body language was like they already had the game won. We just had to come out with aggressiveness like they did in the first half."

The Volunteers (24-11) helped expedite Ohio State's comeback by launching wild 3-pointers, continuing to play at a breakneck pace and refusing to milk time off the clock.

"We know that the way we play a fast-paced style, there's going to be runs back and forth from both teams," Vols point guard Dane Bradshaw said. "It's an exciting game to watch, but we weren't able to come through."

Oden, who had more fouls (3) than points (2) in the first half, went to the bench with his fourth foul with 11:02 left but it hardly slowed down the Buckeyes.

Ohio State took their first lead with 8:34 on a pair of free throws by Matt Terwilliger - Oden's replacement - and opened a four-point lead at 72-68 on Jamar Butler's 3-pointer with 6:55 to play.

Tennessee got its second wind as Bradshaw, JaJuan Smith and Ryan Childress all hit a 3-pointer to regain the lead at 77-74 with 4:40 left.

The Buckeyes fought back to take an 82-79 advantage with 2:04 to play after back-to-back 3-pointers by David Lighty and Lewis, who scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half.

"Ron is playing tremendous basketball for us right now," Matta said. "As a fifth-year senior, this is what he had in mind, and what I had in mind for him. He is playing within himself. His defense has gotten so much better. He's really becoming a well-rounded player."

Lofton connected from the arc to knot it at 82-82, and after Oden hit two free throws for a two-point lead with 1:28 left, Tennessee's Wayne Chism and Ramar Smith each hit one free throw apiece to deadlock it at 84-84 with 38 seconds to go.

That left it to Ohio State freshman Mike Conley Jr., who drove the lane and was fouled with 6.5 seconds left.

"I just tried to create something," Conley said. "It worked out, and we got the foul."

A teammate of Oden in high school, Conley shook off three straight misses to make the first and miss the second foul shot.

Ramar Smith grabbed the rebound and dashed the length of the court, but his layup attempt was swatted away by Oden.

"The one thing I love about Greg Oden, if you asked me one word to describe him, I'd say 'winner,'" Matta said. "He'll do whatever he has to do to help the team win."

"Ramar just went to the basket and Oden followed him in," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "I thought Ramar had drawn some contact underneath, a very similar play to Conley's, but Greg was there up top. You get the ball in your point guard's hand, and you drive it to the lane. Ramar can make some tough twos, so I was pleased with the shot."

Lofton scored 24 points, Ramar Smith 15 and JaJuan Smith 14 for Tennessee, which shot 39 percent (11-of-28) in the second half. Ironically, the Vols shot 52 percent (16-of-31) from the arc.

Oden finished with just nine points, four rebounds and four blocks. Conley had a brilliant all-around game with 17 points, a team-high seven boards, six assists, two steals and one turnover, but it was another stat that opened Pearl's eyes.

"It's interesting that Conley shoots 14 free throws, Chris Lofton doesn't shoot any," Pearl said. "Maybe Chris doesn't drive it into contact as much. But for him not to go to the free-throw line one time is difficult for me to understand."