Two Re­serves Stand Out Un­til Oden Gets Back In

The Washington Post Sunday - - Spring Training - John Fe­in­stein

AT­LANTA I t took Greg Oden ex­actly 2 min­utes 41 sec­onds on Satur­day night to find his way from the cen­ter jump cir­cle in the Ge­or­gia Dome to a seat on the Ohio State bench. Ex­actly who was to blame for Oden turn­ing into a spec­ta­tor is de­bat­able. Ref­eree Ted Valen­tine de­cided he was mov­ing on a screen on Ohio State’s sec­ond pos­ses­sion, and less than two min­utes later, ref­eree Mike Kitts de­cided a flop by Jeff Green as Oden went to the bas­ket was a charge.

The score was 5-3, Ge­orge­town. A roar went up from Hoyas fans as Oden walked to the bench. Now, 6-foot-8 Matt Ter­williger and 6-9 Othello Hunter would have to guard 7-2 inch Roy Hib­bert for the rest of the half. Ad­van­tage, Ge­orge­town. “As Greg went by me to the bench, I told him this might be the night I have to put him back in dur­ing the first half with two” fouls, Ohio State Coach Thad Matta said. “For­tu­nately we didn’t have to do that be­cause of the way the other guys played.”

The other guys were Ter­williger and Hunter, two of the least-her­alded play­ers on Ohio State’s star-stud­ded ros­ter. Ter­williger, a ju­nior, av­er­aged 2.2 points and 1.8 re­bounds a game dur­ing the sea­son. Hunter, a ju­nior col­lege trans­fer who ini­tially signed with Rad­ford com­ing out of high school, av­er­aged 6.0 points and 4.6 re­bounds. Sta­tis­ti­cally, this game wasn’t very much dif­fer­ent from the rest of the sea­son. But Ter­williger and Hunter kept their team in the game — ahead, in fact, 27-23 at half­time — un­til Oden could re­turn and give peo­ple some sense of why he has been tagged as the game’s next great cen­ter as a col­lege fresh­man. As well as he played in the sec­ond half, as su­perb as point guard Mike Con­ley Jr. was in the Buck­eyes’ 67-60 vic­tory, it might well have been two play­ers who av­er­age a com­bined 8.2 points per game who saved Ohio State.

“There’s never any sense of panic when Greg gets in foul trou­ble,” Ter­williger said. “I mean, it’s hap­pened be­fore, so we don’t see it as that big a deal. We know we have to go in and hold the fort down un­til he can get back in there.”

Even so, Ter­williger ad­mit­ted to be­ing a lit­tle bit in shock when he found him­self pulling his sweats off less than three min­utes into the game.

“We didn’t ex­pect that,” he said, smil­ing. “It’s a good thing Othello was able to come in for me af­ter a lit­tle while be­cause I was start­ing to get a lit­tle bit tired. I guess that’s where our depth re­ally showed up.”

Ter­williger showed up big-time dur­ing one key se­quence shortly af­ter Oden took a seat. When Jeff Green, who had not yet taken a shot, tried to slash past him to the bas­ket, Ter­williger reached in, stole the ball and found Con­ley streak­ing the other way. Con­ley fed Dae­quan Cook — who missed a layup — only to have it fol­lowed by Ter­williger, who had fol­lowed the play af­ter mak­ing the steal.

“Matt re­ally gave us an emo­tional lift there,” said Ron Lewis, who strug­gled with his shot all night. “He un­der­stands what he needs to do when he comes in. So does Othello. That’s why we don’t panic when Greg gets in foul trou­ble. We just keep play­ing.”

There are some peo­ple who think Ohio State ac­tu­ally is a bet­ter of­fen­sive team when Oden is off the floor. The Buck­eyes are more apt to run, and their of­fense is more di­verse when the ball doesn’t have to go through Oden in the low post. The big ques­tion with Oden out was con­trol­ling Hib­bert, who had a six-inch height ad­van­tage on Ter­williger and five inches on Hunter.

“All we tried to do was keep him from get­ting the ball too close to the bas­ket,” said Hunter, who a year ago watched Ge­orge­town beat Ohio State in the sec­ond round of the tour­na­ment from his ju­nior col­lege dorm in Tampa. “It helped us when he got his sec­ond foul, too.”

No doubt it did, but the Buck­eyes had a 15-14 lead when Hib­bert picked up that foul with 6:48 left in the half. They had the game set­tled down, and it was ap­par­ent that Oden would not have to play again in the first half.

One per­son who wasn’t sur­prised by how well the Buck­eyes played with­out Oden was Green.

“We’d seen them play with­out him a lot,” he said. “They played the en­tire over­time against Xavier with­out him. They played a bunch of games [seven] early in the sea­son with­out him when he was hurt. We know he’s a great player, but there’s a lot more to their team than just him. They did a good job of play­ing de­fense with­out him.”

Oden ended up play­ing 20 min­utes; Ter­williger and Hunter com­bined for 26. As in­tim­i­dat­ing a shot blocker as Oden is, Ohio State didn’t seem to suf­fer on de­fense with­out him.

“The thing that’s great about Greg is that he never shows his frus­tra­tion,” Ter­williger said. “When he came out, it was as if it was no big deal — even though we knew it was a big deal. When we got in here at half­time, his at­ti­tude was like, ‘Okay, you guys got me this far, I can take it from here.’ And he did.”

Oden scored all 13 of his points and got all nine of his re­bounds in the sec­ond half. He blocked one shot — the same num­ber that Ter­williger and Hunter had. Con­ley was cer­tainly Ohio State’s best player from start to fin­ish, but he was well aware of the im­por­tance of the backup big men.

“We’re still a good bas­ket­ball team when they have to come in for Greg,” Con­ley said. “We all know that be­cause it’s been go­ing on all sea­son. Tonight it was just a lit­tle big­ger game that they had to get it done in.”

Said Lewis: “We all know what Greg means to us. But when he’s out, we’re a quicker team. We can run the floor a lit­tle more and be ef­fec­tive that way. Plus, Greg knows when he gets back in we’re still go­ing to be in the game and we’re go­ing to get him the ball and he’ll get it done.”

A sim­ple for­mula: Oden gets in foul trou­ble; Ter­williger and Hunter wear out the other team’s big men and then Oden comes back to fin­ish the job.

“I was fresh for the sec­ond half,” Oden joked, sur­rounded by dozens of re­porters in the locker room.

A few yards away, Ter­williger and Hunter were able to dress in rel­a­tive quiet. Oden now has one more col­lege bas­ket­ball game to play Mon­day night be­fore he likely heads off to the NBA.

He will get to play in that game largely be­cause of two guys who will never see the inside of an NBA locker room un­less they go visit their for­mer team­mate in the fu­ture.

When they do, they can re­mind him about the night they bailed him out in the Fi­nal Four.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.