COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Bruce Springsteen ended up being Ohio State’s sixth man.
Jamar Butler scored 20 points and spurred a 17-2 first-half run with three 3-pointers to lead Ohio State past California 73-56 in an NIT second-round game on Monday night played before a raucous sellout crowd of 13,276 at 52-year-old St. John Arena.
“It was loud. The crowd got us going out there,” Butler said. “That’s what players want to do, to play in environments like this. They gave us a little boost to get us going.”
The game was shifted to the old building the Buckeyes left a decade ago because Value City Arena, their current home, was booked for a concert by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
“It was electric in there,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said of the wild atmosphere at St. John Arena. “It was funny, driving over from the Schottenstein Center, it took me about two hours to get here — and then just seeing the people lining up to get in the building. They did a tremendous job for us.”
The Buckeyes (21-13), who were fifth in the Big Ten, advance to host a quarterfinal game on Wednesday night against Dayton (23-10), a 55-48 victor at Illinois State on Monday night. It’ll be the first meeting between the Flyers and Buckeyes since 1988.
“We haven’t seen them a lot,” Matta said. “Obviously, they’re a very, very good basketball team. They’ve been through some injuries this season. We’ll go back and take a look at them. It’s a quick turnaround, so we’ll have to get ourselves ready.”
Kosta Koufos had 17 points and Othello Hunter controlled the paint with a career-high 16 rebounds to go with 11 points.
“Othello played like a man tonight and did a tremendous job on the glass,” Matta said.
Asked the last time that his coach had paid him such a compliment, Hunter grinned and said, “Tennessee, probably.”
In that game, he had his previous best in rebounds with 14 against the sixth-ranked Volunteers.
Jerome Randle had 18 points and Ryan Anderson, averaging 21.4 a game, added 11 for Cal, making its first appearance in Columbus since Dec. 23, 1949.
“It was an off night for me,” Anderson said. “I can’t say it was all me. They definitely played great defense throughout the game.”
The lead never dipped below 14 points again after the Buckeyes opened the second half with a 7-0 run to extend a spurt in which they outscored the Golden Bears 24-4 to take command.
“The last few minutes of the first half they created some separation,” Cal coach Ben Braun said. “That really hurt us.”
The meeting was the first between the teams since the 1960 national championship game. Those Buckeyes, led by super sophs Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek, along with Joe Roberts, Larry Siegfried, Mel Nowell and a little-used sub named Bob Knight, pounded the defending national champion Golden Bears of coach Pete Newell, 75-55 at the old Cow Palace in San Francisco — Ohio State’s only national championship in men’s basketball.
The Buckeyes started out slowly on Monday night, seemingly caught up in the moment. The atmosphere was decidedly non-NIT — more like a clash with a Big Ten heavyweight. Even though the most recent banner hanging from the rafters was for the 1992 Big Ten championship, St. John Arena became a hornets’ nest.
Down 19-18 with 6 1/2 minutes left in the half, the Buckeyes scored 17 of the next 19 points for a 35-21 lead — Butler scoring nine points, all on 3s, along with three inside shots by Koufos and a follow by Hunter.
They made just 1 of their first 11 shots behind the arc before Butler hit three — each met with a louder roar from the crowd. After Cal broke the spell to cut the lead to 35-23 on an Anderson drive, Ohio State continued their hot streak in the second half to pull out of reach.
“It was our defense,” Butler said of the key to the spurt. “We turned them over, which led to easy buckets. I think they just lost me a few times and I took advantage and knocked them down.”