GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)—Al Horford’s ankle is just fine, and so are the defending national champions.
Horford had 11 points and 11 rebounds in his return from a sprained ankle, keyed Florida’s second-half run and helped the fifth-ranked Gators dismantle No. 3 Ohio State 86-60 on Saturday.
Horford, cleared to play after a morning shootaround, dominated his matchup with talented 7-foot freshman Greg Oden.
Oden was in foul trouble much of the game and finished with seven points and six rebounds.
Gators coach Billy Donovan had said Horford would not play against the Buckeyes, but the 6-10 junior practiced Friday without any setbacks and was inserted into the game early.
He was much more effective late, though.
Ohio State (10-2) used a 9-0 run to start the second half and erase a 38-29 deficit. But then Horford took over.
He had two jumpers, two dunks, a layup, a free throw and several rebounds over the next few minutes to help the Gators (11-2) put the game away.
Taurean Green and Corey Brewer also came up big in the 33-9 run that turned a tie game into a rout and had the largest crowd in the O’Connell Center’s history (12,621) in a frenzy.
Green had 10 points, including two 3-pointers, in the spurt. He finished with 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting.
Brewer, who had a 102-degree temperature in Florida’s first loss against Kansas and sat out the second loss at Florida State, slashed through the Ohio State defense for most of his 18 points.
Florida’s defense came up big, too.
The Buckeyes shot 37.5 percent—well below their season average—and were outrebounded 42-25.
Mike Conley Jr. led Ohio State with 13 points, seven assists, five rebounds and four steals. But he didn’t get much from the rest of the “Thad Five,” coach Thad Matta’s highly touted recruiting class.
Oden, David Lighty, Daequan Cook and Othello Hunter were a combined 5-of-20 from the field.
Oden was 2-of-6, hampered by Horford, Noah and Chris Richard.
Florida’s trio of big men went right after the player many consider to be the best center in college basketball. When Oden wasn’t on the bench in foul trouble, he was causing problems for the Gators, though.
He had four blocks and a steal.
Oden missed his first shot attempt and picked up a foul trying to get the rebound. He struggled much of the rest of the way.
Florida used a 15-0 spurt in the first half to open up a 33-20 lead.
Oden got two easy dunks to trim the lead to 36-29, but Green drove right at him on the other end with 5.1 seconds remaining and drew a foul—Oden’s second.
Green made both free throws to extend the lead, and the Gators finally looked like the team that swept through the NCAA tournament last season for their first national championship.
Florida had struggled to match opponents’ intensity and enthusiasm—maybe a natural byproduct of trying to repeat.
But Donovan’s squad had little trouble getting up for this one.
Tickets were sold out long ago. At least 20 NBA scouts were on hand to see what was touted as a marquee matchup featuring three of the best big men in the country in Oden, Horford and Noah. It also was considered a possible precursor for the Bowl Championship Series national title game Jan. 8 in Glendale, Ariz. between the two schools.
Gators football coach Urban Meyer can only hope for the same success.
He was courtside with his family and spent the second half chatting with former Ohio State football star Cris Carter.