COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -Jamar Butler scored 18 points and engineered runs in each half to lead Ohio State past Columbia 68-54 on Tuesday night and into the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
The Buckeyes (2-0) will meet Syracuse on Nov. 21 at Madison Square Garden. The Orangemen beat Saint Joseph’s 72-69 to win their region of the tournament.
Seven-foot freshman Kosta Koufos led Ohio State with 19 points. David Lighty added 13.
Columbia (1-2), which returns every player on the roster from last year’s 16-12 team, took advantage of the quickness of its guards and its experience to hang around for much of the game with the taller, more talented Buckeyes.
John Baumann, an All-Ivy League pick a year ago, led the Lions with 12 points. Mack Montgomery and Joseph Bova each had 11 points and Patrick Foley had 10.
Ohio State has just one starter back from last year’s squad that went 35-4 and finished as the NCAA runner-up to Florida. At one critical point in the second half, the Buckeyes had Butler, sophomore Lighty and three freshmen on the floor.
Columbia trailed just 36-35 early in the second half before the Buckeyes pulled away with a 12-0 spurt. Butler contributed on almost every basket, hitting a long 3 to start it off and assist from freshman Evan Turner. Lighty hit a foul shot after a steal, with the Buckeyes retaining possession when a foul was called on the Lions on the missed second shot.
Butler then popped in another 3 to push the lead to 43-35. After a Columbia miss, Butler drove the lane and kicked a pass to Turner in the right corner for a 3. The Buckeyes then grabbed a defensive rebound and hurried down the floor, with Lighty flicking a one-handed pass to Matt Terwilliger for a layup and a 48-35 lead.
The Lions never got closer than eight points again.
The Buckeyes led 33-26 at the half, but they trailed for a good portion until going on a 14-0 run.
Down 23-19 with 6 1/2 minutes left in the half, they suddenly starting finding the range outside while controlling the paint. At the same time, the Lions missed 10 consecutive shots from the field until Foley threw in a long 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Butler led Ohio State’s surge. He hit the 3-pointer which broke a 23-23 tie, then scored the final four points in the run on two free throws and a perimeter jumper.
The Buckeyes had never won a game in the preseason NIT tournament before sweeping Wisconsin-Green Bay and Columbia on its home floor.
It might look like a mismatch in terms of today’s perspective on athletics – the Buckeyes are nationally ranked most years in football and basketball, in particular, and Ohio State is roughly 10 times the size of Columbia. But the Lions had won the only previous meeting, 30-29, on Jan. 2, 1931.