Ohio State Basketball: The 10 Most Shocking Moments in Buckeyes' History
College basketball thrives on shocking moments. Whether it is a dramatic upset in March Madness, a buzzer-beating heave to knock off a rival or a stunning recruiting decision, there is always something to keep fans on their toes.
With that in mind, it only makes sense that Ohio State’s basketball program has had plenty of shocking moments.
Some will rekindle pleasant memories for Buckeye Nation, while others will elicit a cringe or two.
Read on to see the 10 most shocking.
No. 10: March 6, 2005 vs. Illinois
It was the final game of the regular season, and Illinois still had not lost. The Fighting Illini were led by Dee Brown, Luther Head and future NBA superstar Deron Williams.
The Ohio State team that stood in their way of an undefeated year was solid but not spectacular. The Buckeyes finished sixth in the conference, and had lost to Illinois by nearly 20 points early in the season, meaning this game would be a mere formality before the tournament started.
Illinois jumped out to a quick double-digit lead, but the Buckeyes gradually chipped away over the course of the second half. Eventually, Ohio State found itself with the ball and down by two with merely seconds remaining.
Thad Matta, with nothing to lose, drew up a play that opened up Matt Slyvester for three, who would fill the role of unexpected hero.
Sylvester drained the shot; Illinois missed its desperation attempt at the buzzer, and throngs of students rushed the floor to celebrate the fall of No. 1.
No. 9: Sweet 16 Loss to Kentucky
There have been more difficult losses to deal with in terms of when they took place in the tournament for Ohio State’s basketball program, but few can match the shock factor following the 2011 Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky.
It may seem strange now considering how dominant the Wildcats were last year, and will be in the near future with stocked recruiting classes, but that season belonged to the Buckeyes. They were huge favorites to win the national title and the No. 4 seed Kentucky was supposed to be a warm-up before the Final Four.
However, John Calipari’s freshmen hung with the 34-2 Buckeyes the entire game. With only five seconds remaining, Brandon Knight swished home a jumper with Aaron Craft’s outstretched hand in his face to give the Cats a two-point lead.
William Buford missed the ensuing three, and Ohio State’s magical season came to a screeching halt.
No. 8: Signing of the “Thad Five”
Before the 2006-07 season began, the Buckeyes had only made it further than the second round of the NCAA tournament once in the past 14 years, and that was the vacated 1998-99 season.
Needless to say, Ohio State was not a basketball destination school on par with the Dukes and Kentuckys of the world in terms of recruiting. It was becoming easy to label it as a football powerhouse that was struggling on the hardwood, a la an Alabama.
But third-year coach Thad Matta was about to change that.
Matta hit the recruiting trail hard right away and brought in one of the best freshmen class in the history of the sport in 2006. It was affectionately deemed the “Thad Five” in homage to the Fab Five that laced it up at Ohio State’s rival.
Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook were all considered five-star prospects, and Othello Hunter and David Lighty were seen as four-star players. The team went all the way to the national title game that season, but the long-term implications was that Ohio State was once again a program to contend with on a national stage.
No. 7: 1970s Struggles
Ohio State was one of the most dominant basketball programs in the country during the 1960s. Head coach Fred Taylor led the Buckeyes to four Final Fours, three national championship games and a national title during the decade.
What’s more, Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek established Columbus as a destination location for players that were looking to parlay a successful collegiate career into NBA superstardom.
However, that all began to change during the 1970s.
From 1971 through 1979, the Buckeyes did not make the NCAA tournament: That included a 9-15 season, 9-18 season and 6-20 season.
For a team that was so great during the 1960s, it was a shocking fall from grace.
The program returned to relevance during the 1980s, thanks to players such as Dennis Hopson and Clark Kellogg, but the 1970s were not kind to the Scarlet and Gray.
No. 6: Evan Turner Breaks Back and Wins Naismith in Same Year
It was simply supposed to be an early season warm-up before the difficult Big Ten slate began. If you had just read the box score, the only thing that would have stood out from Ohio State’s 111-60 win over Eastern Michigan was the margin of victory.
However, for Buckeye fans in the arena and watching on television, the season flashed before their eyes.
Superstar Evan Turner fell awkwardly after a dunk attempt and landed square on his back. Everyone’s fears were realized when the X-rays were returned. Turner had a broken back.
But Turner returned much more quickly than even the most optimistic doctors could have projected and only missed six games. What’s more, he didn’t miss a beat and led the Buckeyes in scoring (20.4), assists (six), rebounds (9.2) and steals (1.7) per game, all while basically playing the point guard position on offense.
Turner was honored for his efforts with the 2009-10 Naismith Award, AP Player of the Year, NABC Player of the Year, Sporting News Player of the Year, USBWA Player of the Year and Wooden Award.
Considering the fact that he was almost paralyzed, Turner’s incredible season was truly shocking.
No. 5: 1999 Final Four Run
Ohio State entered the 1999 NCAA tournament as a dangerous No. 4 seed, but not one that many expected to make some serious noise.
However, Scoonie Penn and Michael Redd had other plans.
The Buckeyes cruised to the Sweet 16 where they met top-seeded Auburn in Knoxville. The Scarlet and Gray pulled off that upset and then knocked off No. 2 seed St. John’s in the Elite Eight.
It was a run to the Final Four that not even the most ardent member of Buckeye Nation could have seen coming.
It ultimately ended against Richard Hamilton and the eventual national champion Connecticut Huskies in a closely contested battle, but Ohio State had lasted much longer than most expected.
Unfortunately for that team, the Final Four was vacated because of recruiting violations, but Buckeye fans will always remember Penn, Redd and the 1999 run to the Final Four.
No. 4: 1992 Elite Eight Loss to Fab Five
Ohio State fans would be miserable if the Buckeyes lost to Michigan in a chicken wing eating contest in July. Imagine their grief when the Wolverines knocked out their beloved Scarlet and Gray at the Elite Eight in March of 1992.
Tales of that Michigan team will be forever etched in the stone of college basketball history because of the fame that accompanied the “Fab Five” freshmen who led the squad. However, the Buckeyes were probably the better team that season and had already defeated their archrivals twice by double digits.
All-American Jim Jackson and the top-three ranked Buckeyes expected to roll over the freshmen, but Michigan played one of its best games of the year and won in overtime.
Had Ohio State, which was a formidable favorite, won this game, perhaps the lore that surrounds that Wolverines squad wouldn’t be there today.
No. 3: 1960 Title and the First-Year Wonders
When the 1959-60 season began, there was a level of uncertainty surrounding the Ohio State program.
The Buckeyes were expected to be good, but the main cogs in the machine were two first-year players who were new to the collegiate basketball scene. Fortunately for the Scarlet and Gray faithful, those two first-year players just happened to be John Havlicek and Jerry Lucas.
Ohio State rolled to a 25-3 record, including 13-1 in the Big Ten, and won the conference while climbing as high as No. 2 in the rankings. Lucas was absolutely dominant, and put up the astronomical numbers of 26.3 points and 16.4 rebounds a game.
The dominance continued in the NCAA tournament, and the Buckeyes won every game by double digits, including a 20-point beatdown of the 28-2 California Golden Bears.
It still stands as Ohio State’s only national title in basketball and will forever be remembered by the hoops faithful in Columbus.
No. 2: Bearcat Nightmares
If the 1960 national title was somewhat of a surprise for a young Ohio State team, the dominance the Buckeyes enjoyed the next two seasons was not.
John Havlicek and Jerry Lucas had the Scarlet and Gray ranked No. 1 in the country at the end of the 1960-61 and 1961-62 seasons. The Buckeyes weren’t just winning, they were winning big.
They reached the 1961 national championship game after dispatching St. John’s by 26 points in the Final Four. Cincinnati awaited, but Ohio State was heavy favorites over a Bearcat team that had lost Oscar Robertson from a season ago.
Nobody told unheralded forward Bob Wiesenhahn that he was supposed to roll over though. Wiesenhahn outscored Havlicek 17-to-four, and led Cincinnati to a shocking upset over the mighty Buckeyes.
Lucas and Havlicek returned the next season, and Lucas put together one of the best seasons in Big Ten history, scoring 21.8 points and grabbing 17.8 rebounds a night.
The Buckeyes crushed everyone they faced in the NCAA tournament until the pesky Bearcats once again upset them in the national title game.
Ultimately, Ohio State came away with one national title and three Final Fours during the careers of Lucas and Havlicek, but it could have been so much better were it not for Cincinnati.
No. 1: Jim O’Brien Scandal
There are a number of layers to the Jim O’Brien scandal that rocked the Ohio State basketball program to the core, so I will do my best to summarize.
Boban Savovic was a deadly three-point shooter for the Buckeyes, but he was more trouble than he was worth. A married couple of the Ohio State boosters housed Savovic for his first few months at school before they were told they could not do that.
The couple paid their former nanny to take in Savovic but eventually went back on their agreement, and the nanny sued. The lawsuit said that a Buckeye assistant had brokered the deal, and that head coach O’Brien had paid another recruit from his own pocket.
Ultimately, O’Brien was fired, and the program was forced to vacate the games Savovic played, which included the Buckeyes’ Cinderella run to the Final Four in 1999.
Naturally, O’Brien sued the school for wrongful termination, and Ohio State was forced to pay him $2.4 million even though he admitted to the athletic director that he paid the recruit—which makes about as much sense as a bowl ban for trading your own merchandise for discounted tattoos.
Of course, the real lesson is that whenever you are running a massive athletic department, you always have to keep an eye on those renegade nannies.