By Matt McCoy
Ten years ago, Ohio State's basketball was coming off a sub 500 season, had failed to make the NCAA tournament in consecutive years and was facing major NCAA sanctions. What a difference a decade makes...and what a difference Thad Matta has made.
After three years at Xavier, Matta was hired by Ohio State July 7, 2004 and short of winning a national title, has raised the level of Buckeye basketball to new heights.
"The only grade you can give Thad Matta is an A," 610 WTVN basketball analyst Tony White said of the decade of Matta. "He has been a tremendous basketball coach at Ohio State. You're talking about Big Ten Championships, Final Fours, deep runs in the NCAA tournament, great recruiting classes...He has been one of the best coaches in the country."
In thinking about Matta's 10 year anniversary, I started to put together a list of his 10 most memorable victories. I picked them based on the drama--importance of the win, quality of the game, etc. Your list may be different because there's a bunch of games to choose from.
First, here's some of the games I considered that didn't make my final cut.
December 31, 2005 vs LSU. Trailing by 12 with under 3:00 left, Ohio State rallied to beat Glen "Big Baby" Davis and what turned out to be a Final Four LSU team, 78-76. Matt Sylvester splashed the game winning 3-pointer from the baseline with five seconds left---his second huge game winning shot in as many years.
February 22, 2006 at Michigan State. Behind the clutch shooting of Jamar Butler, and eventual Big Ten player of the year Terence Dials, the Buckeyes won 79-68 at Michigan State. It was OSU's first win in East Lansing since 1992 and was the key victory in what turned out to be Matta's first Big Ten championship.
March 31, 2007 vs Georgetown. By definition of importance, I suppose you can't get any bigger than this one. It was the national semi-finals and the Buckeyes beat the Hoyas 67-60. It was the 22nd straight win for the team led by freshmen Greg Oden and Mike Conley. It was also their last win, as the Buckeyes would fall to Florida two days later in the national title game.
January 12, 2010 at Purdue. This was the game the nation discovered Evan Turner. The junior, in just his third game back from his neck injury, scored 14 consecutive points down the stretch, to rally the Buckeyes for a 70-66 win. He out-dueled Purdue star Robbie Hummel.
March 28, 2013 vs Arizona. It was hard to leave this one out. The Buckeyes won 73-70 over Arizona on a last second 3-pointer by LaQuinton Ross. It put Ohio State into the Elite Eight, where the Buckeyes lost to Wichita State. I chose another game from that tournament run--but you can certainly argue that this victory belongs on the list.
The Top Ten
10) March 6, 2011 vs Wisconsin. In terms of drama, there was none...but there was plenty of emotion. No. 1 Ohio State avenged its loss to the Badgers from earlier in the season in the "Deal With It" game, blowing out Bo Ryan's Badgers 93-65 on Senior Day. It was the goodbye to Matta's best senior class, featuring David Lighty, Jon Diebler and Dallas Lauderdale. This was probably Matta's best team, but it suffered the heartbreaking loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16. Frankly, I put this in because these guys simply deserved a spot on the list.
9) November 29, 2011. Another blowout--but memorable as Ohio State whipped Duke 85-63 in the Big 10/ACC challenge. The Buckeyes raced out to an 11-0 lead and dominated throughout before an energized Schottenstein Center crowd.
8) March 24, 2013. Aaron Craft, not known for his shooting, drilled a 3-pointer in the closing seconds to lift Ohio State to a 78-75 win over Iowa State in the round of 32 at the NCAA tournament. LaQuinton Ross had his heroics vs. Arizona four days later. I chose this one because if put Ohio State into the Sweet 16 for a fourth straight year. At the time, it was the longest such streak in the country.
7) March 24, 2012. The Buckeyes advanced to the Final Four for the second time under Matta, with a 77-70 win over East Regional top-seed Syracuse. It was a pro-Orange crowd but Jared Sullinger, with timely shots by then-sophomore Lenzelle Smith Jr., led Ohio State to the victory and a spot in the Final Four in New Orleans.
6) March 22, 2007. In a tournament run full of comebacks, the Buckeyes rallied from 20 points down to win in the regional semi-finals 85-84 over Tennessee. freshman Mike Conley and senior Ron Lewis came up big in the victory which included a last second blocked shot by Greg Oden. The Buckeyes would beat Memphis two days later to advance to the Final Four.
5) March 12, 2010. If there was any question going into this game as to who would be the 2010 national player of the year, it was answered with one half court shot. Evan Turner bailed out the Buckeyes, who avoided the Big Ten Tournament upset by beating Michigan 69-68. The victory propelled Ohio State to a Big Ten tournament championship. Turner was the MVP and eventually--yes--the National player of the year.
4) February 25, 2007. This was No. 1 vs. No. 1. Ohio State and Wisconsin shared the top rank in the AP and Coaches poll and met with the regular season Big 10 title hanging in the balance. Mike Conley drove into the lane and lefty flipped in the winning shot with his right hand. The 49-48 Buckeye win wasn't secured until Ron Lewis blocked a shot at the buzzer.
3) March 4, 2012. The Buckeyes needed to win, at Michigan State, in the regular season finale to share the Big 10 title. They trailed most of the game but mounted a second half rally. With the game tied at 70, William Buford splashed a jump shot in the final second, and the Buckeyes won 72-70. That team eventually would make the Final Four.
2) March 17, 2007. It looked like Ohio State's season was over and it looked like Matta would lose to his former school...but Ron Lewis had other ideas, nailing a game tying 3-pointer in the final seconds of the second round NCAA tournament game in Lexington. Ohio State would carry the momentum into overtime and beat Xavier 78-71. 610 WTVN basketball analyst Tony White would have this victory number one on his list...and it's hard to argue--but I went another direction.
1) March 6, 2005. To me, this was the win that set the whole thing in motion. The final regular season game in Matta's first year. No. 1 Illinois was going for an undefeated regular season and led virtually the entire game...but the Buckeyes, behind Matt Sylvester, playing the game of his life, chipped away. Down 64-62, with 12 seconds left, Matta called time out and decided to go for the win. Sylvester delivered with the game winning 3-pointer with five seconds left. The Buckeyes won 65-64 with a kid named Daequan Cook in the crowd. Cook, the top player in Ohio, would commit to Ohio State a month later. His AAU teammates, Greg Oden and Mike Conley would commit over the summer.