Record Setting Rally Carries Buckeyes Past CornHuskers
By John Porentas
They can't shoot worth a darn from the field.
They can't make free throws.
They have a big man that sometimes totally disappears as a rebounder.
None of that mattered against Nebraska in the Big Ten tournament.
For whatever they didn't have, Ohio State (25-8) had enough of something to stage the biggest rally in Big Ten Tournament history. They came from 18 points back to defeat Nebraska (19-12) by a final of 71-67 and advance to the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament against Michigan tomorrow.
It was as improbable as it was dramatic.
Nebraska rode a spate of OSU turnovers and excellent shooting from Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields to a 31-28 half time lead, then extended that lead to 13 points in the first five minutes of the second half.
The Huskers were rolling and the Buckeyes were reeling. Then things got interesting.
OSU forward LaQuinton Ross took exception to some physical play after a whistle and reacted by shoving a Nebraska player. The series of events resulted in a personal foul on Ross and a technical foul as well.
"That was really just out of frustration. There was a lot of extra hitting and stuff going on after the whistle had been blown," said Ross.
"They had been trying to bully us."
"They got some shots at us after the whistle was blown," agreed forward Sam Thompson.
"We didn't like how they were dancing on the bench. Just the whole vibe, we didn't like it. I think Q's tech brought it all to a head and we were able to rally around that."
When the free throws got shot nd the dust settled following Nebraska's possession after the technical the Huskers were leading by 18 at 48-30 and the Buckeyes looked like dead meat.
Looks are sometime deceiving. What they were really was a bunch of angry Buckeyes intent on coming back and winning a game. Despite the poor shooting, the poor free throw shooting and all the other problems they have, they got it done.
OSU turned the game around but turning up the heat on the Cornhuskers. They brought on a full-court press that Nebraska was totally unable to solve, and the rally was on. The Huskers turned the ball over time and again, were called for a five second violation trying to inbound the ball, and burned time outs when they couldn't get the ball in.
"It was very effective," said center Amir Williams.
"It was able to disrupt their offense.
"They were struggling to get the ball in. I think when you have guys like Shannon and Craft they're able to pick up full court and Craft was giving Petteway a hard time there at the end."
The Buckeyes, meanwhile, seemed to make them pay for every turnover, and the men doing most the damage were Ross and an unexpected hero, the little-used Amedeo Della Valle.
Ross just pounded the Huskers on the offensive end. He ended with a game-high 26 points on 9-18 shooting from the field and 7 of 9 shooting from the free throw line. Della Valle's 12 points were substantially less, but it was the way he got them that made the difference. He did it in just 21 minutes of court time, and he got fully one third of his points with two clutch free throws with 12 seconds left in the game, and two more with five seconds left to ice the win. He also produced two steals and an improbable three blocked shots. He was Mr. Energy when the Buckeyes needed energy the most. He has not been this effective all season, but according to Matta, there has been a reason for that.
"He's been hurt," said Matta.
Matta said Della Valle has been hurt for a good part of the season, but is beginning to recover, though he is still a long way from 100 percent.
"He only practiced one day this week. I've been asking him if he's OK," said Matta.
"Obviously he was OK today."
Della Valle's success on this day was a huge factor in the OSU win. For Matta, it was much more.
"He's solid, just solid," said Matta.
"The biggest thing with that kid is he just wants Ohio State to win.
"When we got beat by Wichita State last year he was sobbing in the locker room. He didn't play a second, but he cares. He cares. I've never forgotten that. Great kid."