ATLANTA - Greg Oden couldn’t beat Florida all by himself.
Ohio State’s big guy finally got to play a full game in the NCAA championship Monday night and, in the end, it didn’t matter. Florida easily beat the Buckeyes 84-75 despite the freshman star’s best game of the tournament.
“We pretty much got every and anything out of Greg tonight,” guard Mike Conley Jr. said. “He played a great game. He helped us offensively and defensively. But, you know, our team needed to play as well as he was tonight by the way Florida was playing. That was the key.”
In what might have been Oden’s final college game, the likely No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NBA draft led his team with 25 points — his second-highest total of the season — 12 rebounds and four blocked shots.
Afterward, Oden sat slumped at his locker, drained by playing 38 minutes and dejected after his team’s first loss after 22 straight wins.
“We’re used to winning. That’s what we know,” Oden said, speaking softly. “It just didn’t turn out that way. It kind of hurts.”
Asked about entering the NBA draft, Oden said, “Next question, please.”
After running into foul trouble in four straight NCAA tournament games, severely limiting his playing time, Oden finally was in full time for this one and it was quite a show.
He played like a veteran, shining on college basketball’s biggest stage. Showing a nice touch with his hook shots and power with two-handed jams and blocks, the performance was prime-time proof that Oden is as impressive as billed.
Problem was, his teammates couldn’t make their 3-pointers and they couldn’t stop Ohio State’s 3s.
“Our game plan was not to leave their shooter,” Oden said. “They got a couple of open 3s.”
Oden had 11 points and seven rebounds in the first half, ending it with a two-handed jam over Florida’s overmatched freshman center, Marreese Speights.
Speights played late in the first half to protect Florida’s top inside players from fouls, but Oden continued to pile on the points in the second half when defended by starter Al Horford and top backup Chris Richard, who finally fouled out.
For the final, he left the floor only for brief rests.
“Greg played a great game,” Ohio State senior Ron Lewis said. “He fought hard. He did everything he needed to do. ... I think it was one of his best performances, staying out of foul trouble and doing the things he needed to do to help this basketball team.”
Conley, also a freshman, added 20 points with his slashing drives to the basket.
“Both guys played exceptionally well,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “Greg really did a tremendous job of scoring the ball, finishing the ball. They chose to go with single coverage. When teams do that, really the difference in the game is we need to make a couple more shots from the outside.”
“It’s not just that we couldn’t make a 3,” Oden said. “We couldn’t get over that hump. We got that 11-point deficit in the first half and we just couldn’t get over it.”
Speaking as Florida’s confetti-filled celebration continued on the court, Oden said, “It’s disappointing, because this is what we want. What they are doing right now is what we wanted.”
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