Ohio State sinks Syracuse to gain NIT Tip-Off finalNov 22, 2007 - 6:06 AM By Larry Fleisher PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer
NEW YORK (Ticker) - Thad Matta is the familiar situation of having a much-hyped freshman at Ohio State and he is quite modest about it.
Kostas Koufos scored a career-high 24 points as the Buckeyes advanced to the finals of the NIT Season Tip-Off with a 79-65 victory over 21st-ranked Syracuse on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
A year ago, Matta was in charge of Greg Oden's development and the progress of two other freshmen, who became first-round picks in the NBA draft.
Less than six months after losing Oden to the draft, he is coaching another highly touted freshman in Koufos, who was a McDonald's All-American and the runner-up to teammate Jon Diebler in the Mr. Ohio Basketball as a senior in high school.
Through three games, Koufos has lived up to his billing. He came into this game averaging 18.5 points and that average will increase after the 7-footer hit 10-of-17 shots to put Ohio State into Friday's title game against Texas A&M, which posted a 14-point victory over Washington.
Koufos also added nine rebounds, blocked a pair of shots and hit two 3-pointers.
Despite a solid all-around night, Matta is being cautious with how his latest freshman continues to develop.
"I think time is going to tell," Matta said. "You spend 15 minutes with him you realize he's 19 years old or 18 whatever he is. I honestly believe this, I think that we do kids such an injustice by inflating a good game. We blow them up and all this stuff. Kosta's got such a level head and that's the thing I love about him.
"I know people have to have things to talk about and project and all this stuff but we just keep talking to Kosta about getting better. He did some things tonight that he's got to get better at. He made a few mistakes that we're not going to be able to win basketball games if he doesn't get them corrected. As good as he was, there's so much room for improvement and he'll be the first to tell you."
Koufos' solid night will also put the Buckeyes into the finals of this event for the first time in three tries. They had failed to advance to New York in 1989 and 1994.
Like Matta, he also kept a low-key approach about his night, electing to credit some of his other teammates, including senior Jamar Butler, who scored 15 points on four 3-pointers, and Othello Hunter, who chipped in 14.
"Every day in practice, we practiced our offense," Koufos said. "We tried to move the ball and shift it and we've got great players that can shoot the ball such as Jamar. Fortunately we have great teammates that could get us open and our shots were hitting today."
Koufos had 15 points by halftime as Ohio State opened a 42-34 lead. The eight-point lead was quickly reduced to three on a basket by Arinze Onauku with 17:04 remaining.
"It was just a battle all night," Onauku said. "We're both big players, both around the basket and he just ended up getting the best end."
Ohio State surged ahead by double digits as Koufos scored seven points in a 10-1 run that opened a 56-44 edge with 12:47 left following a 3-pointer by Butler.
Butler hit hit again from the arc at the 8:02 mark for a 67-52 advantage and the Buckeyes never looked back as Syracuse was rarely able to get it below 10.
"He was so steady," Orange coach Jim Boeheim said. "He was very steady and running the club, I thought he was really good tonight."
Freshman Donte Greene scored 21 points and Eric Devendorf chipped in 15 for Syracuse, which had won the title of this event in 2001 and 1989.
Those contributions were not enough to overcome an awful night by freshman Jonny Flynn, who went scoreless on 0-of-6 shooting.
Flynn's showing was part of a team-wide shooting slump for the Orange. They shot 36 percent (25-of-69) and were a woeful 5-of-25 from three-point range as Devendorf were a combined 2-of-14 from the arc.
"Eric and Jonny, our good 3-point shooters, they didn't shoot the ball well tonight," Boeheim said.
"We were trying to be really scrappy and keep things packed in and make them take tough shots," Butler said. "We made them take tough shots and made it hard for them to score."
Syracuse started off decently, opening a 20-13 lead on a basket by Greene with 11:13 left in the first half. They scored just 14 points the rest of the half as Ohio State's zone improved the rest of the game.
"You know there was a couple adjustments we made," Matta said. "One thing I think that helped us was Greene and they started missing. When he banked that three in the first half, I thought, 'My gosh, are we in for a long night tonight.'"
- NIT SEASON TIP-OFF
AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN
NCAA BB NIT SEASON TIP-OFF
FINAL 1ST 2ND TOTAL
--- --- -----
SYRACUSE (21) 34 31 65
OHIO ST 42 37 79 FINAL
Nov 21 11:37 PM
- NIT SEASON TIP-OFF
AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN
NCAA BB (21) SYRACUSE 34
OHIO ST 42 HALFTIME
Nov 21 10:29 PM
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