DAYTON, Ohio - Ohio State had four trips to the NCAA tournament erased last week. Ron Lewis made this one count.
Stung by the NCAA punishment, Ohio State regrouped in its tournament opener behind an excellent performance by Lewis. He was in the middle of almost every play during a second-half surge that led the second-seeded Buckeyes to a 70-62 first-round victory over relentless Davidson in the Minneapolis Regional on Friday.
“I told these guys after the game that the greatest words you can hear in college basketball are ’Ohio State advances,’ and that’s what we’ve done,” coach Thad Matta said.
The teams met in the first round of the tournament four years ago, with Ohio State winning 69-64 — the last appearance by either team in the elite field.
The NCAA ruled last week that Ohio State must erase all references to that game, along with all the others from the 1998-99 through 2001-2002 seasons, for using an ineligible player while Jim O’Brien was the head coach.
On Friday, the sixth-ranked Buckeyes (26-5) were in trouble for much of the game, beset by bad shooting and the inspired play of the Wildcats (20-11), the Southern Conference tournament champions.
Lewis came off the bench to change all that, scoring 16 of his 19 points in the second half. When the Big Ten regular-season champions were 1-for-14 on 3-pointers, he hit two in a row to give them their first lead in more than 16 minutes.
“We got confused a couple of times on ball screens and he was able to get some open looks,” Davidson’s Brendan Winters said. “I guess it just happened to be his time.”
Lewis, a transfer from Bowling Green, then stole a pass at the other end, and Terence Dials, the Big Ten’s player of the year, scored at the other end. After two Davidson misses, Lewis then assisted as Dials scored inside to cap the 10-0 run and give the Buckeyes a 42-35 lead with 11 minutes left.
The Wildcats got as close as 49-46 on Winters’ steal and jumper with 7½ minutes left, but J.J. Sullinger scored on a short jumper and Dials had a three-point play and Ohio State’s lead never fell below five points again. The Buckeyes move on to a second-round meeting with No. 7 seed Georgetown on Sunday.
Dials also had a big second half, scoring 13 of his 19 points. He also had 12 rebounds. Sullinger chipped in with 13 points and 13 rebounds.
Asked how loud on a scale of 10 Matta was in the locker room at halftime, Sullinger said, “Probably a 13.”
He added, “No, he just told us what needed to be said. We didn’t come all this way to play the way we did in the first half.”
Ian Johnson matched his career high with 26 points and also had 10 rebounds for the Wildcats. Winters, Davidson’s leading scorer at 17.1 points a game, finished with 10 points on 5-of-16 shooting from the field.
There were bad omens all day for the Buckeyes, who have won eight of their last nine and 12 of 14 but looked tired and listless in losing the Big Ten tournament finale to Iowa on Sunday.
Dials tried to corral a Davidson miss midway through the first half and tipped the ball into the basket without a Wildcat even remotely nearby.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
For a while, it looked as if the Wildcats might become the fifth No. 15 seed to dump a No. 2.
Davidson’s fans made up a small but vocal segment of the partisan Ohio State crowd. They had a lot to cheer in the opening half.
The Wildcats led 29-25 at the break, completely frustrating the Buckeyes — who had difficulty scoring inside or out. Ohio State, stuck in a lengthy shooting slump, was 1-for-14 from 3-point range. In addition, Dials was 3-of-12 in the paint and the Buckeyes shot under 30 percent from the field.
The Buckeyes turned things around, thanks to Lewis and Dials, in the second half. They shot 54 percent from the field and finished the game with only four turnovers.
“They made some big shots at big times in the game,” Davidson coach Bob McKillop said. “And that’s why they’re the Big Ten champions.”
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