Buckeyes ride hometown bus trip past Virginia Tech, 62-57

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 7, 2003

COLUMBUS - Maybe Ohio State needs to take a bus to hometown games more often.

In the Buckeyes' first game in Columbus but off campus in more than 47 years, J.J. Sullinger scored Ohio State's first 12 points and Tony Stockman contributed big plays in two surges in a 62-57 victory over Virginia Tech on Saturday.

''Our effort level was vastly improved,'' said Buckeyes coach Jim O'Brien, who said he was embarrassed by his team's lackluster effort and heart in Wednesday's 73-53 beating at the hands of No. 13 Georgia Tech. ''We did a better job of playing with enthusiasm. It helped, particularly in the first half.''

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The game was played at Nationwide Arena, home of the NHL Columbus Blue Jackets, as a dry run prior to the facility hosting first- and second-round games of the NCAA men's tournament on March 19 and 21, 2004.

Ohio State's floor was transported the three miles to the downtown arena, as were the baskets and shot clocks.

Both Sullinger, from Arkansas, and Stockman, out of Clemson, are transfers in their first season playing with the Buckeyes (3-3).

''We wanted J.J. to be assertive and we wanted him to show he's one of our best players,'' O'Brien said.

Sullinger finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds with Stockman adding 14 points and five assists.

''It started in the locker room,'' Sullinger said. ''We had to get after it early and luckily my shots started to fall early.''

Virginia Tech (3-3) leading scorer Bryant Matthews, who came in averaging 27.4 points a game after back-to-back games of 36 and 37, was held to 15 by Ohio State's array of zone defenses. He hit just 6 of 17 shots from the field.

''Ohio State did a good job on Matthews, stopping him off the dribble,'' Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. ''I thought we had Ohio State on its heels. We had a chance, but we missed some free throws and we missed some key shots.''

Zabian Dowdell led the Hokies - who had beaten Ohio State in all four previous meetings - with 18 points.

''A couple of shots didn't fall at the end or we could've tied the game,'' Dowdell said. ''We should feel OK about our effort.''

Down by 16 at the half, Virginia Tech relied on sticky defense and muscular play inside to get back in the game.

The Hokies held Ohio State without a point for the opening 4:05 and without a field goal in the first 5:32 of the second half, going on a 13-1 run to pull to 41-37 on Dowdell's banked-in perimeter shot from behind the foul line with 14:50 left.

But the Buckeyes reeled off the next nine points over a 4-minute span. The spurt was started by Stockman's line-drive 3-pointer and was capped by Stockman's backdoor alley-oop pass to Sullinger for a dunk at 11:20 that made it 50-37.

A 6-0 Hokies run cut it to 58-52 with 3:45 left, but Terence Dials drove the baseline and dunked off a pass from Brandon Fuss-Cheatham at 2:07. Eight seconds later, Matthews was called for his fifth foul on a charge and the outcome was all but decided.

The lead never dropped below the final margin again.

''We wanted to limit Matthews' touches,'' said Dials, who teamed with 7-foot center Velimir Radinovich to put the clamps on him. ''We did a good job of stopping him - and stopping him is stopping Tech.''

Sullinger hit 8 of 13 shots from the field and Stockman was 4 of 9 behind the 3-point arc.

Matthews was held to just four points in the opening half by a cloying, trapping 1-3-1 zone. His first bucket of the game at the 6:17 mark cut Ohio State's lead to 20-15 before the Buckeyes scored 11 of the next 13 points - Stockman hitting two 3-pointers.

Sullinger scored all the Buckeyes' points in the opening 10 minutes, hitting all five of his shots from the field.

The last time Ohio State played away from campus in Columbus was their final game of the 1955-56 season. The Buckeyes moved to St. John Arena the next season, then to Value City Arena six years ago.

''You should never have to talk about playing hard,'' O'Brien said. ''Now you have to combine that with playing well. In the first half, we did that. In the second half, we didn't.''