Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Buckeyes say they’ve grown since last tangle with Tennessee


— When Ron Lewis' name was announced at Ohio State's winter graduation Sunday, there was a loud roar from the thousands packed into St. John Arena.

Lewis is the big man on campus after his clutch 3-pointer forced overtime against Xavier last Saturday. Now, the Buckeyes, who won that game 78-71, are on their way to San Antonio for a regional semifinal game against Tennessee on Thursday night.

"It was great. It was fun," Lewis said Tuesday of getting his diploma. "They gave me a little ovation, and Archie Griffin also gave me a little shout-out."

Lewis' life has changed a lot, and not just because a two-time Heisman Trophy winner acknowledged him.

"It's been a whirlwind," he said. "Before all this happened, people don't really know you. Now you come back after two days and people just want to meet you and tell you congratulations and thank you for hitting the shot. I don't know how many people have come up to me and just said thanks."

Lewis' clutch 3-pointer with 2 seconds left capped the Buckeyes' comeback from nine down with under 3 minutes remaining. Freshman point guard Mike Conley then scored 11 points in the extra period to lead Ohio State (32-3) to the win and now the Alamodome for its showdown against Tennessee (24-10).

It was another Lewis 3 with 11.2 seconds left on Jan. 13 that provided the go-ahead basket in Ohio State's 68-66 victory over Tennessee. The shot also served as a dividing line for the Buckeyes' season, kicking off a 19-game winning streak.

Ohio State is convinced it's a far better team than it was the last time it met Tennessee.

"We're playing probably 10 times better," Lewis said. "We're more confident in ourselves. We've got our rhythm. Our inside-outside game is way better than it was then, because now we know how to play off of Greg (Oden) a lot more. And we've been working on the press, so it's helped us a lot."

In the first meeting, the Vols' press forced 20 turnovers - almost double the Buckeyes' season average of just under 12.

The Volunteers know they'll have to do a better job Thursday of defending 7-foot center Oden. In January, he had 24 points and 15 rebounds despite it being just his 10th game.

"He really killed us in the first half," Tennessee's Dane Bradshaw said. "We feel like we've gotten better. But the whole country knows how much their young players have started to work as a team, and they're definitely better than they were in January."


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