Memories stir as Buckeyes host Gators in NIT

Published 1:37 am Monday, March 21, 2016

Jim Walker


COLUMBUS — There’s no NCAA championship on the line in this Ohio State vs. Florida game, but that doesn’t matter to the Buckeyes or Gators.

With memories being stirred about their NCAA title game bout in 2007, the two teams prepare for their noon battle Sunday at the Schottenstein Arena in the second round of the National Invitational Tournament.

“It’s a big game. It’s Ohio State-Florida, from the basketball side of things, from the football side of things,” said Ohio State coach Thad Matta. “I think with that said, (the Buckeye players) will be ready to roll.”

Ohio State (21-13) leads the series with Florida 8-4 including the last three meetings, but Florida beat the Buckeyes 84-75 in the 2007 NCAA championship game.

The Buckeyes are 4-0 at home against the Gators.

“We know this is a big game, obviously for the history of Coach Matta versus Florida,” said Buckeyes’ Kam Williams.

Ohio State opened the NIT with a tough 72-63 overtime win over in-state Akron while Florida was routing North Florida 97-68.

Jaquan Lyle, Marc Loving and Williams all scored 18 points each in the win as the Buckeyes outscored the Zips 10-1 in the overtime.

Lyle had 14 rebounds and Loving 13, both career highs.

Florida (20-14) struggled down the stretch and finished 9-9 in the Southeastern Conference, tied for eighth in league play.

The Gators are led by 6-foot-8 senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith who transferred to Florida from Virginia Tech after his freshman season. He averages 14.9 points and 8.2 rebounds.

Sophomore John Egbuno from Bauchi, Nigeria, is the team’s second leading scorer with 11.5 points a game.

But Egbuno injured his hand in the Gators’ win over North Florida and will be lost for the rest of the tournament.

Freshman guard KeVaughn Allen is next on the team with an 11.4 scoring average.

Senior guard Kasey Hill had 14 points, three assists and a season-high five steals against North Florida. Over his last three games, Hill is averaging 16.7 points, 3.1 assists and 2.7 steals.

“Confidence is key but I’ve just got to stay in the gym and work on my game,” said Hill. “You do that, your confidence just continues to grow.”

Ohio State is making its ninth NIT appearance. The Buckeyes are now 19-7 all-time in the tournament and won NIT championships in 1986 and 2008. They are 11-2 at home, 3-2 on the road and 5-3 at Madison Square Garden.

Matta is 6-0 in the NIT as the Buckeyes’ coach including 4-0 at home and 2-0 at Madison Square Garden.

Matta vividly recalled the national championship game loss to Florida but said his preparation this time was only to win the NIT match-up.

“That’s kinda how my luck goes in life,” said Matta. “We get a team that can win a national championship and play a team that has everybody back (from a national title). How many times does that happen in today’s college basketball world?

“But I’m over it.”

The game will air on WIRO-AM 1230 and 1420 radio and ESPN.