Ohio State coach Jim O'Brien has said a dozen times that good teams never change late in the season.
So what does he do in the Buckeyes' 32nd game of the year, Thursday night's first-round NCAA South Regional game against Murray State? He tinkers with his starting lineup.
Brian Brown, who hadn't started a game all season, got the call ahead of Jon Sanderson. The only game Sanderson hadn't started previously was in the home finale, when he stepped aside for senior Neshaun Coleman.
"Coach let me know about a week ago," said Brown, a freshman from O'Brien's hometown, Brooklyn. "He felt I could step in and wanted me to bring a spark early in the game and play some defense."
O'Brien said after Wednesday's practice session that the smaller Racers caused some matchup problems for the Buckeyes. Brown also was able to shoulder some of the ballhandling and defensive responsibility usually carried by Scoonie Penn, still nursing a bruised gluteus maximus.
"It was just matchups," O'Brien said, "quickness on the perimeter. We really wanted to put as much pressure as we possibly could on (Murray point guard Aubrey) Reese for as much of the game as we could, but we didn't want to do it with Scoonie to wear him down."
Brown had a terrific first half as Ohio State grabbed a 32-21 lead. Reese had six turnovers by halftime and Brown, playing 14 minutes in the half after averaging just over 17 per game all season, doubled him with two assists.
Brown finished with a season-high 28 minutes. Even though he only scored four points, he added three assists and three rebounds. Reese finished with 26 points, but was just 6-of-15 from the field and had seven turnovers.
"Brian Brown did a great job guarding him," Penn said.
Despite the Buckeyes' talk about paying well early which they had not done in their two most recent losses they appeared nervous and tentative at the outset. On their first trip downcourt, Michael Redd did a reverse pivot and left defender Marlon Towns grasping at air while Redd drove in for a layup. However, the Buckeyes hit just two of their next 14 shots.
"I really think both teams were a little nervy to start the game," O'Brien said. "It was a combination of jitters by both teams and good defense by both teams."
After starting out in a man-to-man defense, O'Brien switched to a zone with the Buckeyes down 10-7 midway through the first half. This change also paid immediate dividends. Murray State missed its next 10 shots from the field, with Ohio State running off six straight points to take the lead for good.
After a Racer basket, the Buckeyes took control with a 13-1 run with six players scoring.
"I thought that was the real key for the game," said Redd, who scored 27 points. "We were down 10-7 when we started that run. We knew we were going to be in a dogfight, so we stayed focused, kept playing hard and played good defense."
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