COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Jamar Butler scored 21 points and added 10 assists to lead Ohio State past UNC-Asheville 84-66 on Tuesday night in an NIT first-round game on their home court.
During one span in the second half, the senior point guard scored or assisted on 15 consecutive points for the Buckeyes (20-13), who were passed over by the NCAA tournament a year after finishing as the national runners-up.
Othello Hunter had 16 points, Kosta Koufos 15 and David Lighty 13 for the Buckeyes, who shot 56 percent from the field while making their eighth NIT appearance.
They advance to host the winner of Wednesday night’s game between New Mexico and California, on Monday at nearby St. John Arena. The game had to be moved from Ohio State’s Value City Arena, the Buckeyes’ home court, because it is booked for a Bruce Springsteen concert on Monday night.
The victory extended coach Thad Matta’s string of 20-win seasons. He’s won at least that many in all eight years he’s been a head coach.
Reid Augst had 20 points, Bryan Smithson 17 and K.J. Garland 10 for the Bulldogs (23-10), the first Big South Conference team to play in an NIT game. They had shared the conference’s regular-season title and made it to Big South tournament final before losing to Winthrop, which captured the automatic NCAA berth.
Asheville’s 7-foot-7 Kenny George played well, scoring 12 points with 11 rebounds. He hit 6-of-7 shots from the field, blocked a shot and added an assist in 27 minutes.
The Buckeyes built a 10-point lead at halftime and then pulled away in the second half.
Butler had a hand in all of the scoring in a 15-7 run midway through, scoring 10 points and assisting on a 3-pointer by Jon Diebler and Dallas Lauderdale’s dunk off an inbounds pass for a 70-54 lead.
The Bulldogs never threatened again.
The Buckeyes had two big streaks in the first half, going on a 10-0 run for a 27-16 lead only to have the Bulldogs counterpunch with a 12-2 run to pull to 29-28. Ohio State then closed the half on a 16-7 run for a 45-35 lead at the break.
Both teams got off to hot starts, Asheville shooting 64 percent from the field and the Buckeyes 58 percent in the opening half.