COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio State is no longer Gator bait.
It’s a long way from making up for all the grief that Florida has dished out to Ohio State over the last year, but the Buckeyes got a tiny measure of revenge Saturday with a 62-49 victory over the Gators.
It was a rematch of the schools in last year’s national championship games in basketball and football, matchups the Gators won handily.
The win was special for Ohio State’s players.
“To get beat in a national championship game, to be 40 minutes away from beating the best team in the nation, it’s always going to stick in a player’s mind,” said Jamar Butler, the only returning starter from either team from last April’s basketball title game.
Kosta Koufos led the Buckeyes (8-3) with 17 points, Butler had 13 and David Lighty added 11 for Ohio State, which won its fourth straight game and seems to be gaining much-needed confidence as it draws closer to its Big Ten opener on Jan. 3 at Illinois.
The Florida game was circled on coach Thad Matta’s calendar, sort of.
“I said in front of the team to Jamar the other day, ’They don’t know what we’ve had to live with,”’ Matta said of the lingering memories of losses to Florida. “I view Florida as one of the premier teams in college basketball right now. Last year we won 35 games and lost four — and two of them were to them. This meant a lot to me.”
Jai Lucas was the only Florida player in double figures with 11 points. The Gators (11-2), who shot just 33 percent from the field, were facing perhaps their toughest test of the season. They had yet to leave the state of Florida and had played most of their games before raucous, partisan crowds.
Ohio State figured it owed Florida. After all, the Gators didn’t just beat the Buckeyes twice last year on the court — 86-60 in Gainesville in the regular season and 84-75 in the national title game in Atlanta — but also put a 41-14 beatdown on the football team in last January’s national championship game in Glendale, Ariz.
“It’s a new year,” Lighty said. “We came in and made it a big game.”
Florida was averaging 83 points but never came close to getting untracked offensively as Ohio State’s defense set the tempo throughout.
“We’ve got a long way to go to be a good team, a competitive team, at this level,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “I did not see our team shooting in the second half with great confidence.”
In a weird statistical irony, the Gators were 4-for-23 on 3-pointers — exactly what Ohio State was in the title game against Florida.
“It was a role reversal,” Donovan said.
The teams were mere shadows of those that squared off in the finals last April 2 in the Georgia Dome. The teams had eight players taken in the NBA draft, including five of the top 10 picks.
Florida scored the first seven points, holding the Buckeyes scoreless for the first 4½ minutes until Othello Hunter finally converted Ohio State’s seventh shot.
But the Gators then drifted, possibly because of Ohio State’s nasty zone or their own lack of efficiency or patience on offense. The Gators managed just four points over a span of almost seven minutes, watching as the Buckeyes took a 12-11 lead.
The Buckeyes led 32-22 at halftime and the lead never fell below double digits in the second half. They led by as many as 18 points and coasted to the finish.
The place was primed for some payback, with a capacity crowd lustily booing the Gators at every opportunity. Several fans in the Ohio State student section wore crude, self-scrawled T-shirts with obscenities directed at Florida. The crowd waved red glow sticks when the lights were turned down for the introduction of the starting lineups, and several fans were less that welcoming when Donovan strode onto the court before the game.
“You could tell after what they did to us and to the football team that this was extra special for them,” Butler said of Ohio State’s fans.
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