Anoint the point
Conley leaps out of the shadows in Buckeyes' big win
Posted: Sunday February 25, 2007 9:37PM; Updated: Monday February 26, 2007 3:08AM
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As thousands of euphoric Buckeyes fans mobbed around him, snapping cell-phone pictures and chanting "One more year," freshman center Greg Oden regarded the moment -- what could very well be his final game at Value City Arena -- with his standard state of ennui. No. 2 Ohio State's unemotional giant hugged a few friends in the stands, cut down his first piece of net without the assistance of a ladder, and without breaking much of a smile. He ambled over to join his more-jubilant teammates, who were mugging around the Big Ten championship trophy they had locked up by beating No. 1-ranked Wisconsin 49-48 here on Sunday.
It took a piece of posterboard, thrust in Oden's direction by an OSU student, to inspire him to finally share in the festivities. The sign, of the ubiquitous network-TV acronym variety, read "Conley's Basketball Squad." Oden, all of a sudden animated and grinning, reached for it and placed it in the hands of his point guard, fellow freshman Mike Conley Jr., from whom he has received assists in high school in Indianapolis, AAU ball and now, at college in Columbus.
Minutes earlier, the Buckeyes (26-3, 14-1) were trailing UW (26-4, 12-3) by one point as the final seconds ticked down on the first No. 1-vs-2 matchup this year in college basketball. With a chance to lock up the Big Ten title, and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament on the line, Conley had the ball in his hands. OSU coach Thad Matta had given his young floor general options; find Oden inside on an isolation play, hit shooter Ivan Harris coming off a screen, or take the ball to the basket himself. He chose the last one: "I was telling [coach] I knew I was going to make the shot," Conley said. "I had that feeling ... and I went to the hole."
Conley found daylight, and laid the ball off the back of the rim and in with 4.3 seconds left. He entered OSU's Senior Night with statistics that transcended his freshman status -- leading the Big Ten in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.1-to-1), assists (183) and steals (66) -- but the cold-blooded play he made in crunch time, and the sign, passed from Oden like a torch, signified something greater: that if the Buckeyes are going to repeat this party in Atlanta, they need to officially become Conley's team.
"Coach always says that me and him are the only two that know what Mike Conley can do," Oden told the press afterwards. "And you see what he did in the last seconds of the game. He just took over, and that showed how much heart he had.
"He looked at me when we were walking down [the floor] and said, 'We're not losing this game.' That sign is for him, because he really was the top performer tonight."
What seemed like the day's 40th rendition of AC/DC's Hell's Bells pumped through the speakers at a deafening level, and the sold-out crowd of 19,044 waved their souvenir towels with gusto, filling the air with white cotton fuzz and a feeling of nervous anticipation. Wisconsin, which had scored the go-ahead bucket with 55 seconds left by slipping star Alando Tucker (12 points, eight rebounds) free behind Oden, got the ball in the hands of another senior, point guard Kammron Taylor. His 12-footer on the break was stuffed by OSU senior Ron Lewis -- "I didn't know I was going to block it until he put it in my face," Lewis said -- who put the exclamation point on his Senior Night. Both Lewis and fellow senior Harris (a team-leading 13 points) provided major assists in a game that saw its final seven points scored by Oden and Conley.
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