Florida shoots down Ohio St., repeats as NCAA champion

Ethan Hyman | MCT Campus

Credit: Ron Soltys

ATLANTA (MCT) — Once again, when it was time to win a national basketball title, the Florida Gators didn’t care about coaching rumors or who was turning professional — or even which team had the best big man.

Fireworks went off inside the Georgia Dome yesterday night as the Final Four filled with celebratory Gators noise. Using the same five starters they won it all with last year, the Gators took out Ohio State, 84-75.

Again, the Gators did it with defense. Until the last minute, no Buckeyes guard had even made a three-pointer. Ohio State made only four all night.

In the first half — just as he had all tournament — Gators forward Corey Brewer proved the toughest matchup. A 6-foot-9 do-everything junior, Brewer hit threes and tipped balls away and dunked on the fastbreak in the first half, and made sure Ohio State’s guards did none of that.

The Buckeyes got the big game they had dreamed of from Greg Oden. Even if it was his last college game, Oden more than held up his end, with 25 points and 12 rebounds.

The Buckeyes just couldn’t come close to matching Florida from long range. The leading scorer in the tournament going into the Final Four, Ohio State’s Ron Lewis never made a three-pointer in the Georgia Dome.

Every time the Buckeyes started to close in, senior Lee Humphrey would hit a three-pointer. Three times in the second half, Humphrey hit one to push Florida’s lead back up to double digits.

Maybe Oden also gave people an idea of how good Florida’s Joakim Noah is going to be in the NBA. The outstanding player of last year’s NBA tournament, Noah was mostly a cheerleader in this one because of foul trouble. But even that wasn’t a problem. Al Horford, the quieter but better of the Gators’ big men, held up his end.

A school that had never won a men’s basketball national championship before last season, Florida now has its slice of NCAA hoops history. The Gators are just the second school in 33 years to win two straight titles. Duke did it in 1991-92. Before that, go back to John Wooden’s UCLA dynasty.

Also, go back to UCLA to find a school that did it in two straight years with the same five starters.

You can go back to the beginning without finding a school that won NCAA championships in both football and men’s basketball in an academic year like Florida just did, beating Ohio State both times.

Whether he takes an anticipated offer from Kentucky or not, Billy Donovan has made his mark. At age 41, Donovan is the third-youngest coach in history to win two titles — after Bob Knight (Indiana) and Phil Woolpert (San Francisco), who were both 40 when they did it. Donovan is the youngest in half a century to win two in a row.

Donovan wasn’t even born the last time Ohio State had been in the title game, in 1962. It will be interesting to see if the Buckeyes can return if Oden, a freshman center, makes his anticipated move to the NBA.

When the proper incentive was in front of them, the “Gators Boys,” as they’ve taken to call themselves, played shut-down defense. Going into Monday night’s game, Florida’s opponents had made just 52 of 195 three-pointers (26.6 percent).

The Gators also will be remembered for how well they fit together — pretty close to a classic five, with all the positions filled. This season, none of them averaged more than 13.3 points a game, but all of them got at least 10 a game.

Without incentive, the results were less inspiring. Right after clinching the Southeastern Conference’s East Division title, Florida hit the road and lost to LSU and Tennessee. Their SEC road record was just 5-3.

NCAA games aren’t played in hostile environments, though, and the Gators now have won 18 straight postseason games, including the SEC tournament.

For the Buckeyes, this game began differently from their others in the NCAA tournament. Oden made it to the first TV time-out without picking up a foul. This time, it was Mike Conley Jr. who picked up his second foul with just over 12 minutes left in the first half.

It was the most important moment of the half.

At that point, each team had 11 points (after Ohio State led early, 9-5). Just 17 seconds later, the Gators had a 17-11 lead after some free throws, a quick Ohio State turnover and a Florida fastbreak that ended with a layup and another free throw.

The Buckeyes weathered Conley’s three-minute absence. Thad Matta changed his defensive assignment when he put him back in, taking him off point guard Taurean Green to protect him. But that didn’t work out so well. Humphrey hit a three-pointer over Conley. Next possession: Brewer, another three over Conley. Third possession: Green hit a three over Lewis. A 24-22 game turned into 33-22 in three possessions.

Ohio State’s best hope, obviously, was to keep Florida’s guards from getting hot. It never seemed to happen. In the first half, the Gators made six three-pointers, led by 3-of-5 long-range shooting by Brewer and two late three-pointers from Green.

For their part, the Buckeyes had only two three-pointers in 12 first-half attempts. Both threes were by forward Ivan Harris. Their three guards combined to miss all six they tried. That mattered more than Oden’s ability to stay out of foul trouble. He had 11 points, but the Buckeyes trailed by 11 at the break.