As the 2019 Final Four gears up for tipoff and a national champion to be crowned on Monday, we’ve now hit the 20-year mark of the Final Four that, supposedly, didn’t happen for the Ohio State Buckeyes. You won’t see a banner hanging from the rafters at the Value City Arena, nor will you see one hanging up in the practice gym. You may see it in some record books, but alway accompanied by an asterisk.
You can attempt to erase the the Buckeyes’ wins en route to a Final Four run in Tampa Bay, but the memories will always be there.
With Michael Redd and Scoonie Penn leading the way, let’s take a look back at the magical run Ohio State had in March 1999.
Before we delve too deeply into Ohio State’s tournament run, it’s important to know that the season before, things did not exactly go well for the Bucks. After beginning the 1997-98 season at 7-3, a loss to Roy Williams and his Kansas Jayhawks was the beginning of a 17-game losing streak. OSU ended the campaign at 8-22, and last in the Big Ten.
Michael Redd was a freshman during the disaster season of 97-98, and junior Jason Singleton was also part of Jim O’Brien’s first year. But the transfer arrivals of Penn and George Reese helped build a solid core in Year 2 of the O’Brien era.
After a 6-0 start to begin the 1998-99 campaign, the Bucks dropped two-straight. But, they shook off the losses to Vanderbilt and Toledo, winning five in a row. A loss to Miami (FL) ended the mini-streak, but two immediate victories over ranked B1G foes Wisconsin and Indiana put Ohio State in the rankings for the first time since January 1993.
By the time that the regular season ended, OSU reached as high as No. 10 in the AP Poll. They won a game in the Big Ten Tournament, before falling to Illinois in the semifinals. The Buckeyes were the second best team in the Big Ten regular season, going 12-4, and had an overall record of 27-9.
Ohio State drew the No. 4 seed in the South Region. In their first round game against Murray State, Redd led all scorers with 27 points. Singleton chipped in a double-double en route to 72-58 victory for the Scarlet and Gray.
In the second round, OSU cruised passed Detroit, 75-44. Redd and Penn each dropped 15 points, as the team made 10 three-pointers and 44 percent of their shots from the field.
The Sweet 16 brought chalk matchups. Auburn was the No. 1, and would do battle with the Buckeyes; Maryland was the No. 2 seed, and drew No. 3 St. John’s. That’s where the chalk would end though, as St. John’s defeated UMD, and OSU stunned Auburn.
Ohio State survived, 72-64, but needed a big game from their stars. Penn scored 26, while Redd had 22. Brian Brown had the third-most points for the Bucks in this game — getting nine off 2-of-9 shooting. Auburn had four guys go for double-figure scoring, but the power of Redd and Penn in the point column was the difference maker.
With a trip to Tampa Bay on the line, Ohio State had control in the second half of their Elite 8 contest with St. John’s — leading at one point by 10. However, St. John’s made a push late, and had a chance to tie the game with 12 seconds remaining via a pair of free throws. However, Chudney Gray missed the first attempt. He made the second one, but OSU still had a 75-74 advantage. Penn was then fouled, and went to the line for two free throws himself. Like Gray, he missed the first and made the second.
The difference was Penn atoned for the miss by poking the ball away from Erick Barkley as he made his way to the top of the perimeter. Redd scooped the ball and held onto it before being fouled with 0.7 remaining. Redd made the first freebie, but missed the second. A three-quarter court heave was dialed up for St. John’s, but it was offline. Just like that, OSU punched their ticket to the Final Four.
Against No. 1 seed Connecticut, Redd and Penn led the way again, but weren’t as effective as in games past. Redd put together a 15-point effort, while Penn tallied 11. However, it was Richard “Rip” Hamilton that doomed the Buckeyes. The future NBA star poured in 24 points against the Bucks, and was the catalyst behind the 64-58 Huskies victory. If there was a silver lining, it’s that OSU lost to the champions, as UConn toppled Duke by three points in the championship game at Tropicana Field.
While the history books don’t technically reflect Ohio State’s run to the Final Four, these games happened. The fallout from Boban Savović receiving impermissible benefits included games be vacated, and O’Brien’s dismissal from the program came after it was learned that he provided a loan to a former Serbian recruit Aleksandar Radojević, who was no longer eligible.
After O’Brien was fired, Thad Matta was hired away from Xavier to run the Ohio State program. His reign included two Final Fours, and numerous 20-win seasons.
While much has changed since 1999, Ohio State basketball has been a success for the better part of the past two decades. Redd went on to have a solid career with the Milwaukee Bucks, and Penn has come back to lead player development at OSU.
Through all of that, you can’t take away the memories from Ohio State’s run to the 1999 Final Four, even if the NCAA tried.