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Oden leads Ohio State into Final Four

Mar 25, 2007 - 2:35 AM SAN ANTONIO (Ticker) -- Freshman Greg Oden didn't need much time to swat away Memphis' championship hopes.

The most hyped big man to enter the college ranks in years, Oden shrugged off foul trouble to score 12 of his 17 points in the second half as top-seeded Ohio State advanced to the Final Four with a 92-76 victory over second-seeded Memphis.

The NCAA Tournament's South Region final saw the Buckeyes (34-3) snap the Tigers' national-best 25-game winning streak in advancing to the 10th Final Four in school history.

Ohio State, which now owns the longest winning streak at 21 in a row, will play North Carolina or Georgetown next Saturday in Atlanta. The Buckeyes are in the Final Four for the first time since 1999.

"We don't want to be a team that checks off that we made the Final Four and get our rear ends kicked on next Saturday," Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said. "We've got to keep getting better."

As good as the star-studded freshman class - headed by Oden and high school teammate Mike Conley Jr. - was expected to be, the Buckeyes were thought to be a year away, particularly after graduating Big Ten Conference Player of the Year Terrence Dials.

Instead, Ohio State is two wins away from claiming its first national title since 1960.

The undeniable impact of Oden was never more evident than in the final 12 1/2 minutes of play. Forced to the bench for huge stretches due to foul trouble, the 7-foot phenom entered the game with 12:39 left and the Buckeyes trailing, 56-51.

"What's going through my mind is there's no such thing as a five-point shot," Oden said. "So we just had to go in there, keep our composure and keep on chipping away at the lead and keep playing hard."

On that point, Oden was wrong. Three minutes after his return, Oden was the central figure in a five-point possession after he drew an intentional foul from Chris Douglas-Roberts while scoring with 9:43 to play.

Oden completed a three-point play to tie it at 60-60, and Jamar Butler was fouled on the inbounds pass one second later. He hit both foul shots for a 62-60 lead which the Buckeyes did not relinquish.

"When (Oden) came in the game, he came with a lot of enthusiasm," Conley said. "He's been sitting on the bench for a while. He saw things from a different perspective and he let us know that. I think he just picked us up."

That sequence triggered a 17-6 spurt that was capped by Ron Lewis' 3-pointer that gave the Buckeyes a 74-66 lead with 4:29 to play.

While Oden downplayed the significance of the intentional foul - "I missed one of the free throws. The play's over with. We won," he said - Memphis coach John Calipari would hear none of it.

"It changed the game. And I really hope it was an intentional foul because it was a difference-maker in the game," Calipari said. "It changed the whole complexion of the game. It put fire in them and took the wind out of our sails. It may have been a good call. I just didn't see it."

The decisive run included a dunk and a hook by Oden before Ohio State finished with brilliant free-throw shooting, converting all 18 attempts in the last 3:47.

"Greg was a real impact," Lewis said. "He gave us another boost in our offense, for us to play an inside-outside game. It opened up drives and opened up some shots for us."

Lewis scored 22 points - his third straight game with at least 20 - and Conley Jr. added 19 for the Buckeyes, who shot 51 percent (26-of-51) from the floor.

Sixth man Jeremy Hunt scored 26 points for the Tigers (33-4), who lost for the first time since December 20. Their season ended in the regional final for the second straight year.

"We were up by five, and a couple of loose balls we should have got," Hunt said. "We didn't get those and then the intentional foul came. It seemed it went downhill from there. If we would have grabbed those loose balls, who knows what the outcome of the game would have been."

    --- --- -----
    MEMPHIS 38 38 76
    OHIO ST 41 51 92 FINAL

    Mar 24 6:56 PM

    NCAA BB (2) MEMPHIS 38

    Mar 24 5:32 PM
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    RUWTbot Added 66 roots

    Memphis vs. Ohio StateMar 24 4:41 PM