Best Performance: Ron Lewis, Ohio State
In the best game of the Tournament so far, there were plenty of great performances to choose from, particularly from two Buckeyes who willed their team to an improbable victory. Neither of them was named Greg Oden.
Not that Oden, who ended up with his umpteenth double-double, had an off night. But after fouling out with his team down nine and less than three minutes to play, it was up to Oden’s teammates to step it up and save their season. You probably know the rest.
Led by senior and Columbus native Ron Lewis, the Buckeyes stormed back to within two with nine seconds left and Xavier’s Justin Cage at the free throw line. He missed the second attempt, Lewis took a shot from well beyond NBA 3 point range, and nailed it to send the game to overtime where they would go on to win.
Lewis ended up with 27 points on 8-13 shooting, including 4-5 from 3, and was perfect from the free throw line. He also pulled down 8 rebounds.
Mike Conley was brilliant as well, and it could be argued that his unconscious play in overtime was just as critical to the Buckeyes’ victory as Lewis’ shot to send the game there.
Justin Cage may well see that final missed free throw in his sleep for a long time, but the fact is that Xavier would not have come within a mile of upending the # 1 team in America had it not been for his 25 point, 8 for 8 shooting the rest of the game.
For those who are saying that the game somehow exposed Ohio State as the weakest of the four #1 seeds advancing to the next round, keep in mind that three of the last four national champions had at least one game decided by a single point during their tournament run. The other team, last year’s Florida squad, had a game decided by just four points against Georgetown.
This team has proven they have plenty of weapons besides their soon-to-be millionaire center. If Lewis and Conley have anything to say about it, their 18th win in a row won’t be their last.
First Runner-up: Derrick Byars, Vanderbilt
The SEC Player of the Year looked lost.
He was taken out of the game. He was making careless mistakes. He missed 6 of his 8 attempts in the first half as Washington State went into the locker-room with an eight point lead.
Then Derrick Byars decided he didn’t want to end his outstanding season just yet.
Byars came alive to hit four 3s in the second half and then another in the first OT, as he lead his team to a thrilling double-overtime victory. He also had the play of the night when he sprinted down the court to swat away Taylor Rochestie’s potentially game winning shot at the end of the first OT.
He played 45 minutes in all, many of them in crunch time with 4 fouls, ending up with 27 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals. In other words, Byars refused to be frustrated. He refused to give up. He would not let his team lose. Because that’s what great team leaders do.
Second Runner up: Jamaal Tatum, Southern Illinois
The Salukis have prided themselves on their defense all season long. But Jamaal Tatum’s outside shooting didn’t hurt either.
Tatum ended up as the game’s leading scorer with 21 points, after going 6-9 from beyond the arc to keep his team in front almost the entire game. However, it was his defense, and the defense of his teammates, that assured Southern Illinois of the Sweet Sixteen.
Virginia Tech had just 3 assists for the entire game. No kidding, 3. That should tell you something about the Hokies’ ability to find open looks, and why they couldn’t muster 50 points for the game.
Collegehoops.net Second Round MVP:
Ron Lewis, Ohio State
All-Second Round Team:
Ron Lewis, Ohio State
Derrick Byars, Vanderbilt
Mike Conley, Ohio State
Jamaal Tatum, Southern Illinois
Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina