Con­ley, Buck­eyes Speed Ahead

Floor Opened Up for the Fast-Mov­ing Guard Af­ter Oden Went to Bench

The Washington Post Sunday - - Spring Training - By Adam Kil­gore

AT­LANTA, March 31 — Be­fore Greg Oden fin­ished his slow walk to the Ohio State bench Satur­day night, Mike Con­ley stopped him. Con­ley yelled at Oden, his high school team­mate and best friend, for draw­ing his sec­ond foul less than three min­utes into the game.

But he also found a glim­mer in Oden’s re­moval. Be­fore the game restarted, Con­ley steeled him­self while also re­as­sur­ing Oden.

“When you get back in the game, we’ll be up by four,” Con­ley said. “Be­cause I’m go­ing to do some­thing spe­cial.”

Then Con­ley backed up his mes­sage, car­ry­ing the Buck­eyes on his slight shoul­ders for nearly the en­tire first half as Oden watched. He scored 11 of his team-high 15 points in the first half of Ohio State’s 67-60 vic­tory over Ge­orge­town in the na­tional semi­fi­nals, turn­ing Oden’s ab­sence from an ob­sta­cle into a bless­ing.

When Oden left the game with 17 min­utes 19 sec­onds left in the first half, the Buck­eyes trailed by two. When he re­turned af­ter half­time, Ohio State, just as Con­ley had promised Oden, led by four, 27-23.

While ac­knowl­edg­ing the ob­vi­ous — that the Buck­eyes are bet­ter with Oden in the game — Con­ley ad­mit­ted he “sort of” likes it when Oden sits. The floor opens up, which al­lows him to un­leash his world-class quick­ness. He also plays with more en­ergy, know­ing he needs to pro­vide more scor­ing and con­fi­dent that, when Oden re­turns, he can save en­ergy by throw­ing passes to him inside.

“He feels like there’s a heav­ier load on his shoul­ders,” OSU fresh­man Dae­quan Cook said.

Said Con­ley: “It’s con­scious. I try to be more ag­gres­sive when he comes out of the game to keep my team in the game. When he’s in the game, it’s a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. The lane gets real clogged.”

The Buck­eyes opened the game for Con­ley fur­ther by run­ning picks for him with their big men, as­sis­tant coach Alan Ma­jor said. The Buck­eyes no­ticed Ge­orge­town would switch on the screens, which left a slower Hoya help­less to stop Con­ley’s quick­sil­ver drives to the lane.

Ge­orge­town even­tu­ally stopped switch­ing, but it didn’t mat­ter; Con­ley blew by Jessie Sapp just as eas­ily. Con­ley’s grace dis­guises his speed, his move­ments so fluid it seems as if he’s mov­ing in slow mo­tion. But then you re­al­ize he’s run­ning by ev­ery­body, us­ing the same long strides as his fa­ther, an Olympic triple jump gold medal­ist.

With just un­der five min­utes re­main­ing, Con­ley dis­played his swift­ness. He stole the ball from Jeff Green, then weaved his way down­court as Sapp tried to catch him. He sliced through the lane, drew Pa­trick Ewing Jr. off of David Lighty, then shov­eled a pass to Lighty.

With Ewing be­hind him, Lighty rose for a layup, which Ewing tried to block but only fouled him. The three-point play stretched OSU’s to nine, break­ing the Hoyas’ back.

Sapp said dur­ing the week he looked for­ward to the chal­lenge of guard­ing Con­ley. When in­formed of Sapp’s ea­ger­ness Fri­day, Con­ley shrugged his shoul­ders, smiled and said, “That’s cool,” a typ­i­cal re­sponse. Through­out the tour­na­ment, noth­ing has fraz­zled Con­ley, who “has a calm spirit about him,” Ma­jor said.

“Some­thing might be wrong with me,” Con­ley said. “I don’t get ner­vous.”

Af­ter the fi­nal buzzer, Oden and Con­ley had a con­fer­ence again on the floor. Oden hugged Con­ley at mid­court, and this time, flash­ing a rare smile, he de­liv­ered the mes­sage.

“We’re there, Mike.”

BY JONATHAN NEW­TON — THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Ohio State’s Mike Con­ley has a clear shot at the bas­ket af­ter get­ting past the Hoyas’ Pa­trick Ewing Jr. Con­ley fin­ished with 15 points.

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