Ohio State basketball under Thad Matta has been better than good. On his way to becoming the winningest coach in Ohio State history, it’s become easy to take big wins, as well as Big Ten titles, for granted.
In the vast majority of those wins, the Buckeyes have been the favorites -- and that’s a credit to Matta. But just as Saturday’s win over Kentucky showed, The Buckeyes have been capable of pulling big wins out of the air when you least expect it more than once in the Thad Matta era.
March 6, 2005 vs. #1 Illinois
The one that started it all. Thad Matta’s first squad in Columbus had the unfortunate sentence of a post-season ban to deal with, but first had to close out their regular season against an #1 ranked undefeated Illinois team.
The Buckeyes limped into the contest with a better than expected 18-11 record, but also with a three game losing streak.
Before a national television audience on CBS, the Illini jumped out to an early 16-4 lead and headed into the locker room at half up 38-27.
But with some luck, sheer hustle, and timely play -- the Buckeyes found themselves with the basketball down just 2 with only 12 seconds left. A quick timeout laid the groundwork for maybe the most famous shot in Ohio State basketball history. Forget the tie, we’re going for the win.
March 14, 2009 vs. #6 Michigan State - Big Ten Tournament semifinals
Ohio State entered the 2009 Big Ten Tournament as the 5-seed and at 20-9 overall, and they weren’t expected to make a whole lot of noise in Indianapolis. They pulled a minor upset over #4 seed Wisconsin on Friday -- leading to a showdown against Tom Izzo’s Michigan State squad.
The #1 seed Spartans had won the Big Ten regular season title by an impressive 4 games, finishing with a 25-5 record including two double digit wins over Ohio State.
The Buckeyes would ride some hot shooting and 18 second half points from Evan Turner to an upset of the Spartans, securing the Buckeyes a trip to the NCAA tournament after spending the previous year in the NIT and denying MSU a #1 seed.
Although Ohio State would lose the Big Ten final the next day to Purdue and lose a brutal first round NCAA game against Siena. The win against MSU announced that Thad Matta’s program was not going to be a flash in the pan.
January 6, 2010 at #10 Purdue
The 2009-2010 Ohio State team was a bit of an unknown for large part of the early season. An injury to Evan Turner left the Buckeyes just 11-5 overall, unranked, and 1-3 in Big Ten play headed into a Tuesday night matchup at #10 Purdue.
Things went from bad to worse in the first half as Purdue jumped out to a 12 point halftime lead behind 29 points from Robbie Hummel.
But the Buckeyes battled back with a gutsy effort from a clearly not 100% Turner. David Lightly took on the role of locking down Hummel -- limiting him to just 6 second half points as the Buckeyes found a late 10-0 run to pull the shocking upset on the road.
The game announced Turner as a serious contender for Player of the Year, an award he would eventually win, and kept the Buckeyes alive in the Big Ten race.
The Buckeyes would lose only 3 more games the rest of the year (including dropping one at home against Purdue) but managed to collect a lot of hardware with a Big Ten title, a Big Ten Tournament title, numerous individual accolades for Turner and a sweet 16 NCAA appearance.
March 4, 2012 at #5 Michigan State
Expectations were high for the 2011-2012 Buckeye team. After a spectacular season the prior year and the surprising return of Jared Sullinger -- it seemed Ohio State had all the pieces necessary for a national title run.
They looked the part in early season, dismantling both top 10 opponents in Duke and Florida, but things got a little more tense when Big Ten play started. Inconsistent play and some miraculous performances by opponents ( I’m looking at you Brandon Paul of Illinois) left the Buckeyes at 24-6, 12-5 in the B1G, going into the regular season finale at Michigan State.
The Spartans entered the game already clinching at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title, need a win for the outright crown. The Spartans had previously defeated Ohio State about a month earlier, holding the Buckeyes to a pathetic 48 point effort at home in Columbus.
It looked like more of the same this day as MSU blitzed out to a 9 point halftime lead. The Buckeyes fought back in the second half and managed to pull the game even as the half ticked down. Just in time for this…
The win earned the Buckeyes a share of the Big Ten crown -- Michigan State and Michigan also claimed a piece. And although Ohio State would drop a rematch against the Spartans one week later in the Big Ten Tournament finale, the win in East Lansing seemed to right the ship at just the right time and set the team up for their eventual Final Four run and successful season.
December 19, 2015 vs. #4 Kentucky
It probably should have been a blowout. The young and inexperience Buckeyes were reeling with early season losses to UT-Arlington and Louisiana Tech and getting absolutely crushed at UConn just one week earlier.
Kentucky, although not as good as they’ve been the past couple of years, entered the game with their endless roster of NBA-talent, #4 ranking, and a significantly more fans at the neutral site game played in Brooklyn
But there’s a reason they play the games.
Ohio State rode some hot shooting in the first half to build a lead and some hustle and well-timed buckets to withstand whatever second half runs the Wildcats could muster.
The 74-67 Ohio State upset was maybe the most unexpected of the Thad Matta era and definitely one of the most enjoyable games of the past couple of seasons.
Yes, Ohio State is still a deeply flawed team at 6-5 overall and will be lucky to make the NIT let alone NCAA tournament this year, but Saturday offered a glimpse of perhaps this team is capable of. More than that, the way they did it -- with hustle and tenacity and enthusiasm, gives credence to the fact that this coaching staff is very good at what they do. It’s a down year for Ohio State basketball, but brighter days are ahead and this year’s team is still capable of keeping Buckeye Fans entertained for a few more months.
It doesn’t get much better than this…