This has been a trying time in Ohio State basketball. For the first time in his career, Buckeye head coach Thad Matta is on the verge of not winning at least 20 games in a season. Because of that, and because of decline in the quality of Buckeye basketball over the past two seasons, Matta has been placed on the hot seat by the people of Twitter and parts of the OSU sports community.
In sports, and certainly in life, you will get criticism that is deserved and undeserved—on the flip side, you will probably get praise that is warranted and unwarranted.
As the public opinion trial of The People with Sports Hot Takes v. Thad Matta goes on, Matta did something to help his case to stay as the head man in charge of the Bucks: he coached a squad that picked apart the No.16 Wisconsin Badgers. That evanescence of good feeling — that the Buckeye program could win tough conference matchups under the microscope of national television — brought up an equally good question: What were some other moments Thad Matta brought to the Ohio State program that made you smile, rejoice and believe that, yes, this program’s potential was only limited to that of the sky?
Here are a few moments that come to mind that Thad Matta made the Buckeye fanbase feel good.
Two to tie, three to win...
The first year of the Matta era in 2004-2005 could be considered a trial run. The Buckeyes were ineligible to play in the postseason, and Matta had a year to iron out the kinks.
Entering the regular season finale against then-No. 1 Illinois, the Buckeyes were riding a three game losing streak. While the losses wouldn’t hurt the Buckeyes’ chance of making the tournament, the three losses were oh so close—two of them were by two points.
With the regular season finale being at home, Matta had to coach up a show. What came of the game against Illinois sparked a legendary moment. With seconds left to play, and down 64-62, junior forward Matt Sylvester launched a three from the far side wing.
CBS Sports broadcaster Gus Johnson was on the call for the instant classic and uttered, “two to tie, three to win it. Sylvester, for three!”
What followed was pandemonium, as Sylvester buried the shot to give the Buckeyes the go-ahead lead. Illinois inbounded the ball at halfcourt and put up a desperation three. The shot was off the mark, the fans rushed the court and Thad Matta had a signature win in his first year at Ohio State.
Lewis keeps hope alive
The 2007 road to the Final Four looked good for Ohio State. After all, the Buckeyes ended the regular season on a 14-game win streak—and seemed to be peaking at just the right time to make a run in the NCAA Tournament.
Matta and the crew toppled Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament and cruised past Central Connecticut State in the first round of the big dance. All didn’t seem well; all was well.
Nothing seemed to get in the No.1-seed Buckeyes’ way. When OSU faced Xavier in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the company from Columbus learned something: Xavier was, in fact, going to be a problem.
Xavier, who made it to the 2004 Elite Eight with Matta as the conductor, was about to send the No.1-seed Bucks packing early. The only thing missing from Xavier’s bid to upset the near invincible Greg Oden led squad was Matta whispering, “Eu Tu, Xavier?”
The upset was in the bag for the No.9-seed Musketeers. Except, Ron Lewis was playing for the Buckeyes. With under 10 seconds left to play in the second half and down 59-62, OSU rebounded a missed Xavier free throw and marched down the court. Mike Conley Jr. had possession of the ball at the top of the key and dished it to Ron Lewis. Lewis stepped into the three point shot and had a clear look at the basket — courtesy of a screen by Conley Jr.
Just like that, the game was tied. OSU dominated in overtime, and pulled out a 78-71 win in Rupp Arena. The Buckeyes win streak reached 22 games, but was snapped in the championship game by the Florida Gators.
Without Lewis, though, that 2007 Final Four banner isn’t hanging inside the Schottenstein Center.
The march to New Orleans
Jim Boeheim and his Syracuse Orange squad were on the cusp of making it back to the Final Four in 2012. For Boeheim, he was overlooking a career precipice that included two Final Four trips to New Orleans. The 1987 trip ended with a last-second lost to the hands of Keith Smart and the Indiana Hoosiers; the 2003 trip ended on a higher note, thanks to Carmelo Anthony leading the way in the Orange’s title victory over a Roy Williams coached Kansas squad.
Syracuse entered the tournament as the No. 1-seed in the East region, while the Buckeyes were the No.2-seed. On the year, ‘Cuse suffered only two losses, and seemed destined to make it to the Final Four. However, Matta and the Buckeyes happened.
Inside the TD Bank Garden in Boston, four Buckeyes scored double figures in the Elite 8 matchup against the Orange. Jared Sullinger, who would eventually play for the Boston Celtics in the same arena, led OSU with 19 points. Lenzelle Smith Jr. delivered on three shots from downtown en route to picking up 18 points in the win.
The Buckeyes beat the Orange on the rebounding front (decisively on the offensive and defensive sides) and held their top scorer of the game, Brandon Triche, to 15 points.
For Matta, the win punched his ticket to his second Final Four appearance—and first to take place in New Orleans.
You can’t win the national championship every year. In fact, just getting to the Final Four takes a little bit of luck on top of the skill.
On the TV show The Office, Ed Helm’s character, Andy Bernard, had an epiphany in the series finale, “I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days before you've actually left them.”
Unlike The Office, the story of Matta and the Buckeyes hasn’t ended. Who knows, maybe a few more ‘good old days’ are around the corner.