Thursday, January 24, 2002

Balanced OSU on top of Big Ten

No. 20 Buckeyes have adjusted without Johnson

By Gary Estwick
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Terence Dials and Brent Darby celebrate after beating Indiana.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
        COLUMBUS — Ken Johnson wasn't just Brian Brown's friend off the court. Johnson was the guy who watched Brown's back on the court. But Johnson ended his career last year after blocking a Big Ten-record 444 shots, so Brown and his Ohio State teammates had to learn to defend without the 6-foot-11 center ready to cover up their missed assignments.

        “We've had to lock up our defense a little bit more,” said Brown, the senior guard who leads the team in scoring (15.2 ppg). “We can't let guys go by off the dribble, because we don't have him down there blocking shots. We've had to play solid defense.”

        The Buckeyes (14-2, 5-0 Big Ten) have been so successful, they entered the Associated Press poll rankings Monday at No.20. They play Michigan tonight.

        Johnson has been replaced by a mix of young and experienced players. Velimir Radinovic, a 7-foot sophomore, is averaging 3.4 points a game and has 10 blocks this season; Terence Dials, a 6-9 freshman, is averaging 6.3 ppg and has nine blocks, and 6-8 senior Will Dudley is averaging 3.3 ppg (six blocks).

        There hasn't been as much fanfare concerning this rotating post group, but the three are just as responsible as anyone else for the Buckeyes' eight-game winning streak.

        The last time Ohio State lost? Two consecutive games to Louisville and Pittsburgh on Dec.15 and 19.

        Before that? The NCAA Tournament.

        “We've got a number of guys that have contributed in the post this season,” Brown said. “We've been fortunate to have most of the team healthy.”

        The Buckeyes returned their other four starters from last season and eight of their top nine scorers. That includes Brown, who also led the Buckeyes in scoring last season, and fellow guard Boban Savovic, who is second on the team in scoring this season (12.1 ppg).

        Ohio State is the only undefeated team in Big Ten play.

        “We're a completely different team from last year,“ Savovic said. “We play better defense, and our offense is spread out. I think that's good for us.“

        Coach Jim O'Brien's challenge is to keep the team from getting complacent.

        “I need them to understand that where we are is nice, but we're nowhere near where we need to be,” he said. “There's still a lot more that needs to be accomplished.”

        O'Brien said Ohio State's ability to win the conference will be tied to the Buckeyes playing solid defense. He says his goal is to return to the NCAA Tournament, not worry about rankings.

        Last year the Buckeyes were upset by 12th-seeded Utah State in the first round.

        The route back to the NCAAs may be different without Johnson, but players such as Brown are showing it is possible.

        “We miss Ken,” Brown said. “But we've played well, and we're trying to move on.”


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