Koufos, Butler lead Buckeyes past Massachusetts to NIT championship
NEW YORK (AP)—In a locker room outburst equal parts joy and angst, Jamar Butler finally dropped the charade Ohio State had been playing for nearly three weeks and revealed its main motivating factor for a roughshod run through the NIT.
“This is what happens when you put an NCAA tournament team in the NIT,” Butler yelled, surrounded by his teammates after beating Massachusetts 92-85 in the title game Thursday night. “Write that down and send that to the committee.”
A year removed from a loss in the national championship game, the Buckeyes have a trophy to carry home—even if it’s not the one they had wanted.
“Kind of a sore loser,” coach Thad Matta said, when asked whether he would watch the Final Four this weekend. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I think I’m going to rest.”
Butler had 19 points and eight assists in his final college game, which culminated with the kind of raucous victory celebration inside Madison Square Garden that he couldn’t have last year in Atlanta.
The Buckeyes lost to Florida in the Final Four, and a snub by the NCAA selection committee kept them from playing for another trip there. They rebounded to dominate each of their four opponents on the way to New York, then had enough to withstand every UMass run.
“In 24 hours I’ve probably watched 10 or 12 games they played,” Minutemen coach Travis Ford said, “and I never saw them shoot like that.”
Kosta Koufos added 22 points and earned the tournament’s most outstanding player award. Evan Turner finished with 20 for the Buckeyes (24-13), who shot 63 percent (19-of-30) from the field in the second half.
“They had their press coming at us,” Butler said, “and once we broke out, I think we were fine on the open floor and I think we made great plays.”
Ricky Harris scored 27 for UMass (25-11), hitting three 3-pointers in the closing minutes to help the Minutemen stay close.
The last of them made it 77-75 with 3:13 left, but Othello Hunter scored moments later and after Harris missed another 3 try at the other end, Butler drained a 3-pointer from the wing to give Ohio State some breathing room.
Turner took care of things from the free throw line over the final minute and a half, helping the Buckeyes wrap up the title.
“I’ve seen this team go through a lot,” Matta said, moments before cutting down the net. “I’m happy for them.”
Etienne Brower, one of four players in the starting lineup who grew up in New York, had 17 points and 12 rebounds for UMass. Gary Forbes finished with 16 points and six assists, and Dante Milligan scored 14.
Massachusetts dominated Ohio State on the boards, outrebounding the bigger Buckeyes 49-37 and corralling a startling 30 on the offensive end. But UMass figured to be in trouble when the frenetic pace that it also enjoys kept up in the second half: Ohio State was 15-1 this season when scoring at least 70 points.
“We didn’t even know if we were up or down, we were just giving it all we had,” Brower said. “They’re a solid team.”
Massachusetts put a scare into Ohio State from the moment the last notes of the national anthem were played, rushing the entire length of the court to shake hands with its stoic, startled Big Ten opponent.
The Minutemen kept racing once the ball was thrown up, forcing three turnovers in the first 2 1/2 minutes and taking a 10-2 lead on a basket by Milligan.
The Buckeyes came right back, with Hunter scoring four of his 17 points to cap a 13-2 run and take a brief lead. But the Minutemen again edged ahead, and Forbes’ 3-pointer with 3:50 left before halftime got the team’s assistant coaches so animated the referees stopped to calm them down.
Fourteen busloads of people were ferried to New York from the UMass campus in Amherst, but they represented just a fraction of the partisan crowd. The school sold its allotment of tickets quickly, and appeared to have far more dressed in its slightly darker shade of red than its counterpart from Columbus.
“You can see by the fan support that came out, we made a difference since I’ve been here,” said Forbes, a senior playing his last game. “A lot of fans have come out, supported us, and this has been a great roll.”
Now they all have to sit back and wonder whether the popular Ford will stay in town. His name has popped up as a leading candidate for the opening at LSU, which could offer the former Kentucky player a chance to return to his roots in the Southeastern Conference.
One fan, wearing a UMass jersey a couple rows behind their bench, held up a sign that pleaded, “Please Stay Travis.” A couple rows down was another sign that read, “Travis Ford, Forget LSU.”
Ford said he hasn’t spoken with any other schools, but wouldn’t say whether he would listen to offers in the coming days.
“I’m looking forward to coaching this team next year,” he said. “I’ve been reading the same stuff as everybody else. It makes me ask questions, to be honest, because I haven’t talked to anybody.”