The Baltimore Sun

ATLANTA -- With 3.7 seconds remaining in last night's national semifinal game and his team trailing Ohio State by five points, Georgetown center Roy Hibbert returned to the bench and buried his face in his No. 55 jersey.

This time, his spot on the sideline was permanent.

Of the two imposing 7-foot players pitted against each other in the Final Four, only Ohio State freshman Greg Oden was left on the court when time expired. Oden and Hibbert finished with four fouls each, but Oden's supporting cast was able to compensate, while Georgetown's leading scorer was stifled and the Hoyas' reserves couldn't add any points in a 67-60 loss.

The No. 1-seeded Buckeyes (35-3), who were the Big Ten regular-season and tournament champions, extended their winning streak to 22 games and will face Florida tomorrow for a chance at the school's first national title since 1960 and second ever. Ohio State will make its first appearance in the title game since 1962.

"We beat, no question, one of the best basketball teams we've played this year," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "The big key was the defense down the stretch. It led to some easy opportunities, probably the difference in the basketball game."

With the win, Ohio State avenged last year's loss to Georgetown in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The No. 2-seeded Hoyas, winners of the Big East regular-season and tournament titles, finished the season 30-7.

Both Oden and Hibbert played hard but remained stoic and straight-faced throughout the game, and when it was over, the two players shared a brief hug as the teams routinely shook hands and left the court. It was one of the event's more lackluster celebrations and didn't quite capture the magnitude of the win.

In what was billed to be an exciting and rare matchup between the two big men, the first half fell far short of the hype and anticipation. Oden, the team's leading scorer (15.4 points per game), rebounder (9.5) and shot blocker (3.3), picked up his first foul at the 19:09 mark and took a seat after his second at 17:19.

"It was real tough in the first half, just sitting there, because I wanted to contribute," said Oden, who finished with 13 points and nine rebounds. "But my teammates, they stepped up. They did a great job. They didn't let them get a lot of offensive rebounds."

Oden played just three minutes in the first half, and Matta said he struggled with whether to put Oden back in the game.

"When he came out, I told him to get ready because you may have to play with two [fouls]," Matta said. "And the other guys did a tremendous job to get us a four-point lead at halftime."

Georgetown, which entered the Final Four with the No. 9 scoring defense in the country, held Ohio State to 38.5 percent shooting from the field in the first half, but the Buckeyes still led 27-23 at the half.

Freshman guard Mike Conley Jr. led the Buckeyes with 15 points - 11 of which he scored in the first half.

"When [Oden] came out of the game, all of us had that mind-set that we had to step up our level of play," Conley said. "Without him in the game, you lose a lot. We had to pick it up the best we could. I felt I did that in the first half."

Hibbert, who also had two early fouls, played just 10 minutes in the first half, but had two dunks and was 4-for-5 from the field with eight points. He finished with 19 points, tied for the game high. Guard Jonathan Wallace also scored 19 points for the Hoyas and went 5-for-9 from three-point range.

With 2:36 left to play in the game, both Oden and Hibbert had four fouls apiece, but they were both still in the game. Only Oden, though, made plays in the final stretch. With 47 seconds remaining and the Buckeyes leading 61-52, Oden soared above the rim and got all ball on his only block of the game, defiantly denying Georgetown.

The game was tied at 44 with under 10 minutes to play when momentum swung in Ohio State's favor when Hibbert picked up his fourth foul and Oden re-entered the game.

All five Georgetown starters were averaging double figures in scoring in the NCAA tournament, but Jeff Green, the team's leading scorer, was held to just nine points.

Georgetown coach John Thomson III said Green's lack of production was "clearly a factor." It was only the second time in the past 19 games that Green was held to single-digit scoring.

"They did a good job of taking it away from him," he said. "We had to do a better job of getting him the ball."

Green wasn't the only one who struggled to score. Baltimore native DaJuan Summers was 1-for-10 from the field and finished with three points, but his reverse layup less than two minutes into the second half tied the game at 29.

In what was Georgetown's first appearance in the Final Four since 1985, the Hoyas got off to their slowest start of the season. Under the Princeton offense, Georgetown was averaging only 69.3 points per game, but the Hoyas scored their fewest points this season in the first half. Jessie Sapp's three-pointer at the 16:35 mark of the second half gave Georgetown a 34-33 edge, its first lead since the Buckeyes trailed 5-3 with 17:42 left in the first half.

"Coach told us he was proud of us," Sapp said. "We need to keep our heads up. A lot of people didn't believe we could get here, but to prove our critics wrong and to come out and be here and the Final Four was a great honor, but we wanted to move on. Ohio State got the win tonight and good luck to them."

GEORGETOWN-Summers 1-10 1-2 3, Green 4-5 1-2 9, Hibbert 9-13 1-4 19, Wallace 7-12 0-0 19, Sapp 4-9 0-0 10, Macklin 0-0 0-0 0, Rivers 0-0 0-0 0, Crawford 0-0 0-0 0, Ewing Jr. 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 25-51 3-8 60. OHIO STATE-Harris 3-7 2-4 9, Oden 6-11 1-4 13, Conley Jr. 7-12 0-0 15, Lewis 1-8 7-8 9, Butler 4-9 0-0 10, Lighty 2-3 1-1 5, Cook 0-4 2-2 2, Terwilliger 1-1 0-0 2, Hunter 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 25-57 13-19 67. Halftime-Ohio State, 27-23. 3-point goals-Georgetown 7-21 (Wallace 5-9, Sapp 2-7, Ewing Jr. 0-1, Summers 0-4), Ohio St. 4-14 (Butler 2-6, Harris 1-1, Conley Jr. 1-3, Cook 0-1, Lewis 0-3). Fouled out-None. Rebounds-Georgetown 30 (Green 12), Ohio St. 37 (Oden 9). Assists-Georgetown 17 (Sapp 4), Ohio St. 13 (Conley Jr. 6). Total fouls-Georgetown 15, Ohio St. 10. A-NA.

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