About an hour before Ohio State squared off against Georgetown on Saturday, Buckeye forward Treg Lee went to a pay telephone called his mother in Cleveland.
"I needed some reinforcement," Lee said. "She told me to pray on it and that she'd pray for me. I wanted to vindicate myself, to prove I was for real today."Not only Lee, but his unbeaten Ohio State teammates wound up doing just that by rallying in the second half to defeat Georgetown 71-60 in the Duel in the Desert Classic.
Ohio State, rated No. 7 nationally, is now 8-0. Georgetown, ranked No. 12 entering the game, is 6-2.
In the day's second game, No. 1 Nevada-Las Vegas (5-0), the defending NCAA champions, toyed with Florida State 101-69.
Critics had charged Ohio State had played soft competition until Saturday and weren't convinced that Lee, a disappointment as a Buckeye for two seasons, had finally arrived in his senior year.
And for a half Saturday, the critics appeared right on both counts. Ohio State trailed Georgetown 32-27 at intermission and the 6-foot-8 Lee had been checked with one basket and one rebound.
But Lee led a second-half Ohio State charge, which left the Hoyas winded at the finish. He scored 11 points and grabbed nine rebounds as the Buckeyes blew to a 58-46 lead and coasted home in the final 41/2 minutes of play.
Detractors may say the outcome would have been different if Georgetown had had Alonzo Mourning, its injured 6-10 scoring leader.
But Lee and his teammates disagreed. "Maybe we can't get full credit," Lee said, "but regardless, I think we proved we're a good team."
"I suppose," said Ohio State forward Jim Jackson, "there'll always be some doubt because Alonzo was out. But we played hard, came back and answered a lot of questions about ourselves."
Georgetown coach John Thompson had no alibis. "We resent it when we win and the other side uses excuses," he said, "so we're not using any.
"We got beat by a real good club. We played a real fine first half but Ohio State simply wore us out with their pressure in the second half."
The Buckeyes' whirlwind finish was impressive. Down 40-35 with 14:12 to play, Ohio State went on a 12-0 run to lead 47-40 and never looked back. Six Buckeyes netted two points each in the spurt.
Leading 56-45 with 6:34 left, Ohio State simply spread its offense, played with the ball and rode the free-throw line to victory, cashing 11-of-13 attempts in the stretch.
For the first time this season, Ohio State trailed at game's start, and trailed big. Georgetown got away to a 12-2 lead and things looked bleak at halftime.
Dikembe Mutombo, the Hoyas' 7-foot-2 center who blocked eight shots during the game, was intimidating Ohio State's front line.
"I challenged Lee and Perry Carter at halftime," said Ohio State coach Randy Ayers. "I told them that they had to challenge Mutombo. Once they settled down, they got the job done."
Carter, with no baskets and one rebound in the first 20 minutes, finished with 11 points and four boards.