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While Hibbert sits, Ohio St. rolls into NCAA finals

By Nancy Armour
Associated Press Writer

ATLANTA — Take Greg Oden away from Ohio State and the Buckeyes still play for the national championship. Take Roy Hibbert away from Georgetown and ... the Buckeyes still play for the national championship.

With Hibbert and Oden both hampered by foul trouble, it was Mike Conley Jr. and the rest of the Buckeyes who carried Ohio State to its first national title game since 1962 with a 67-60 victory over Georgetown on Saturday night.

Conley finished with 15 points, six assists and five rebounds, while Oden added 13 points — all in the second half — and eight rebounds in 20 minutes.

“When he goes down with two fouls, our guys did a tremendous job stepping up,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “Michael was tremendous.”

Hibbert was tremendous, too. He scored 19 points, had six rebounds and one blocked shot in 24 minutes for the Hoyas, and he more than held his own in the much-anticipated matchup with Oden.

Problem was, he spent too much time as a spectator.

So did the rest of the Hoyas.

Jeff Green, the Big East player of the year who had been scoring a team-best 15.8 points in the NCAA tournament, had just nine points, and took only five shots the entire game. He did have 12 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough — not with Hibbert out. The Georgetown bench didn’t contribute a single point. Not one.

At 7-2, Hibbert had two inches and two years on Oden. And the difference showed. Whenever Hibbert was in the game, Georgetown played with confidence, speed and rhythm.

“He’s big,” Oden said. “That’s how he gets all those shots.”

Without Hibbert, the Hoyas looked clunky, slow and disorganized. They couldn’t even pick apart Ohio State’s little guys when Oden was out, a mismatch if there ever was one.

Hibbert left the game with his third foul just four minutes into the second half. When he returned 31/2 minutes later, he reeled off a quick five points and Jonathan Wallace hit a 3 to tie the game at 44 with 9:44 left.

But Hibbert picked up his fourth foul 20 seconds later, and as he was heading back to the bench, Oden was returning. Just like that, the momentum switched again.

“I had to make smarter decisions when I’m out there,” Hibbert said. “I’ve got to be an all-around better player when it comes to knowing when to foul, when not to foul.”

The Buckeyes are used to playing without Oden because he missed the first seven games of the season recovering from wrist surgery. But they’re a better team with him.

“It was real tough in the first half, sitting there because I wanted to contribute,” Oden said. “My teammates did really good.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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