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The final game of the regular season was supposed to be a formality for a mighty Illinois squad.
After all, the Illini were 29-0 and had visions of finishing the season, Big Ten tournament and NCAA tournament without a single blemish. All that stood in the way for Dee Brown, Luther Head, Deron Williams and company was an 18-11 Ohio State team that wasn’t even eligible for the NCAA tournament thanks to the transgressions of a past coaching staff.
The first half played out just as expected, with the Illini taking what appeared to be a commanding 11-point lead into the locker room. Gradually though, Terence Dials (who finished with 21 points) and the Buckeyes chipped away at the lead.
With merely seconds remaining, Matt Sylvester, who came off the bench to have the absolute game of his life with 25 points, drained a three-pointer to give Ohio State a one-point lead. Illinois missed its desperation shot at the buzzer, and thousands of delirious Buckeye fans streamed onto the court in celebration.
There may not have been an NCAA tournament at the end of the road for that Ohio State squad, but that shocking upset marked the arrival of new coach Thad Matta’s program to the national scene.