It was only two seasons, but if you're an Ohio State basketball fan, it felt like an eternity. Two months of March came and went without the Buckeyes taking part in the NCAA tournament. The guy who raised the bar of expectation for Buckeye basketball--making tournament appearances the low bar standard for the program, ultimately lost his job because the Buckeyes were home while the madness ensued.
But that guy, Thad Matta, made March fun again in Columbus. He led the Buckeyes to nine tournament appearances, including two Final Fours, five Sweet Sixteens, and three Elite Eights. The slippage in the program, and the two-year hiatus from the tournament was among the reasons Chris Holtmann became coach in June. When he took over, not many believed we'd be talking about tournament basketball again, but here we are.
Holtmann's 24-8 Buckeyes face 28-6 South Dakota State in Boise, Idaho Thursday afternoon. (4pm TNT) While Holtmann has a team led by key upperclassmen, their tournament experience is scarce. The last NCAA tournament win for Ohio State came in 2015, when the Buckeyes knocked off VCU 75-72 in overtime. Jae'Sean Tate, Keita Bates-Diop and Kam Williams all played in that game. Tate started and scored 12 points with eight rebounds. Bates-Diop took two shots in his 13 minutes--both were 3-pointers and both went in. The second of those 3's, midway through overtime, gave the Buckeyes the lead for good. Williams played just three minutes and did not score. How will the Buckeyes react Thursday? I don't know--but it will be fun to find out.
While that is the last positive March memory for Ohio State, there have been many others. Here are some of my favorites.
In 2013, Ohio State was tied with Iowa State at 75 with time winding down, when Aaron Craft delivered a clutch 3 to lift the Buckeyes into the Sweet 16. Buckeye fans remember it and so does T.J. Otzelberger. He's the head coach of South Dakota State, who Holtmann's Buckeyes play Thursday but in 2013, he was the lead assistant coach for Iowa State. Ohio State hopes to give him more nightmares like this in Boise.
A week later, the Buckeyes were in virtually the same situation in a Sweet 16 game against Arizona. This time, however, Craft passed the ball to LaQuinton Ross, who drilled a 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds left, leading the Buckeyes to the Elite 8.
The last time Ohio State made the Final Four was 2012. The Buckeyes met East Region top seed Syracuse in Boston and pulled off the 77-70 upset. There were some shaky moments late but by and large it's about as well as I've seen an Ohio State team play for 40 minutes.
But no list of Buckeye March Memories is complete without the heroics of Ron Lewis in 2007. The Buckeyes looked like they were going to be second round upset victims to Xavier. Trailing 62-59 with just nine seconds left, Justin Cage of Xavier could have put the Buckeyes away with a free throw. He missed. Mike Conley brought the ball up the floor, flipped it to Lewis who rose up and drilled a 3-pointer to force overtime. That shot propelled Ohio State to a 78-71 victory and eventually, a trip to the national championship game. Conley, in a Players Tribune article this week, says he thanks Lewis almost every day for the shot. It was the shot of the 2007 tournament. Here's hoping Chris Holtmann's tenure at OSU has many more like it.