As Ohio State basketball marched to the Final Four last March, I made the argument in this very space that we are currently in the “golden era” of OSU basketball.
The only thing missing is a national title, and before we get too carried away, that fact is what keeps the current epoch from matching Fred Taylor’s heights from 1960 through 1968.
Under Thad Matta, the Buckeyes are now 243-72 (77%), with five Big Ten regular season titles (and still have a chance for a sixth), three Big Ten Tournament titles, six NCAA Tournaments, four trips to the Sweet 16, two Final Fours, and one national title game appearance. The program has been ranked number one in the country in two different seasons.
While Matta chases that elusive final win, the only thing missing from his coaching resume, it’s important to note that he’s had several huge wins in his nine seasons in Columbus.
Here are the ten biggest Ohio State basketball victories since the 2004-05 season:
#10 December 31, 2005 vs. LSU
The Set-Up: Ohio State opened up Matta’s second year with a perfect 9-0 record, and had one more game before Big Ten play, hosting LSU with future NBA players Glen Davis, Garrett Temple and Tyrus Thomas.
How OSU Won: The 21st-ranked Buckeyes trailed nearly the entire game, and were down by 15 with less than six minutes to play, and trailed by 10 with under three. Matt Sylvester keyed the late rally and his three-pointer with 5.5 seconds left was the difference in a 78-76 win.
What It Meant: Ohio State earned national attention and credibility with the come-from-behind victory, and went on to win the outright Big Ten championship (26-6 overall record). LSU went on to reach the Final Four that season.
#9 March 12, 2010 vs. Michigan (Big Ten Tournament)
The Set-Up: The Buckeyes rode a four-game winning streak, and a share of the Big Ten regular season title coming into the conference tournament in Indianapolis. Fifth-ranked Ohio State had won 13 of its previous 14 Big Ten games.
How OSU Won: Twice in the second half, OSU looked to be in control, leading 39-39 and later at 51-38. However, Michigan chipped away, and Manny Harris’ jumper with less than three seconds left boosted the Wolverines to a 68-66 lead. After a time-out, Evan Turner took an inbounds pass from under his own basket, raced up-court, and heaved a 37-foot winner as time expired.
What It Meant: OSU survived in tournament play without playing its best game. The Turner highlight was the final piece to his player of the year candidacy, which he wound up being the unanimous winner. The Bucks went on to win the Big Ten Tournament, and reached the Sweet 16.
#8 November 29, 2011 vs. Duke
The Set-Up: In one of the biggest non-conference games ever played in Ohio State history, the second-ranked Buckeyes welcomed number three Duke to the Schottenstein Center. The game, however, would not live up the hype, although Buckeye fans couldn’t have been happier with the outcome, especially since it came one day after Urban Meyer was introduced as OSU’s football coach.
How OSU Won: Ohio State raced out to an 11-0 lead, and never looked back. The lead grew to 47-28 at half, and the Blue Devils never got closer than 17.
What It Meant: Following a season in which they spent several weeks ranked number one, this convincing victory solidified the Buckeyes as a basketball power. "Sometimes you just get your butt kicked," said Duke Head coach Mike Krzyzewski afterwards. "I've had my butt kicked before," he added. "We've kicked some butt. Tonight my butt's sore." It was the worst loss by Duke against a Big Ten team in 53 years.
#7 March 17, 2007 vs. Xavier (NCAA Tournament)
The Set-Up: Number one Ohio State entered this second round match-up in Lexington, Kentucky, winners of its last 18 consecutive games. The Buckeyes were also the top seed in the South region, while the Musketeers were ninth. The match-up was personal, as Thad Matta came to Columbus from Xavier just three years earlier, and X’s head coach, Sean Miller, was his assistant.
How OSU Won: Columbus native Drew Lavender’s three put the Musketeers up by 11 with less than eight minutes to play. Xavier still led by nine with 2:54 left in regulation. Down two with fewer than 10 seconds to play, Greg Oden fouled out. Justin Cage, split his free throws, giving the Buckeyes one last chance. Lavender’s former high school teammate, Ron Lewis, hit a deep three to force overtime with just two ticks left. In the extra session, another freshman, Mike Conley, Jr. took over. He scored OSU’s first seven points, and then hit free throws to seal the win. Lewis finished with 27, Conley 21.
What It Meant: Avoiding the upset, the Buckeyes lived to see another day (more on that in #6). Mike Conley, Jr.’s play began to attract notice, and ultimately led to his decision to leave OSU after just one season, becoming the fourth overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft (Memphis).
#6 March 22, 2007 vs. Tennessee (NCAA Tournament)
The Set-Up: Ohio State survived in the NCAA Tournament second round against Xavier to reach the South Regional semi-final against Tennessee. The Buckeyes 19-game winning streak began ironically, with a 68-66 win in Columbus back in January against the Volunteers (more irony…Ron Lewis won that game with a three with 11.2 seconds left). If your diet is irony-deficient, Tennessee got to San Antonio by winning two NCAA Tournament games in Columbus’ Nationwide Arena.
How OSU Won: The first half was all Tennessee, as the Vols staked a 20-point lead at one point. Greg Oden was saddled with foul trouble, banishing him to a career-low 18 minutes played. Down 17 at the break, The Bucks ripped off a 16-5 run to open the second frame, cutting the lead to six. Freshman David Lighty’s triple knotted score at 79 with 2:44 on the clock, and Mike Conley’s free throw with 6.5 left put the Buckeyes ahead 85-84. However, his second went off the rim, giving Tennessee a chance to win. Ramar Smith took it the length of the floor, and got a shot up near the rim as the horn sounded, but Oden was there for the block to preserve the victory.
What It Meant: It was the largest comeback ever for a regulation win (halftime deficit of 17) in NCAA Tournament history. OSU’s win streak reached 20, on the way to 22. Two days later, the Buckeyes got past Memphis to advance to the Final Four. Ohio State beat Georgetown in the national semi-final before falling to defending national champion Florida in the NCAA Title game.
#5 January 12, 2010 at Purdue
The Set-Up: Thanks to the ninth entry on this list, we’ve already established that Evan Turner was the player of the year in college basketball in 2009-10. However, a broken back suffered December 5th that year against Eastern Michigan kept him out of the line-up for six games. Although he had played in the two before this contest in West Lafayette, OSU was just 11-5, and only 1-3 in league play. Purdue, meanwhile, was ranked sixth in the country at 14-1.
How OSU Won: Like so many of these games, the Buckeyes dug themselves an early hole. The Boilermakers’ Robbie Hummel was on fire in the first half, scoring 29 of his career high 35 in the first 20 minutes. Purdue closed with an 11-2 run to take a 41-29 lead. The second half belonged to Turner, who scored 23 of his career high 32 after the break. ET also tallied 14 of his team’s final 18 points, as OSU rallied from down 62-52 with 4:07 left on a 10-0 run by Turner. Free throws from Turner and William Buford, as well as a basket by Jeremie Simmons were the difference.
What It Meant: OSU went on to capture Big Ten regular season (after a 1-3 start) and tournament titles, winning 18 of its next 20 games. Unranked at the time of this game, the Bucks would climb as high as fifth in the country. Turner, of course, was Big Ten and National Player of the Year.
#4 March 5, 2013 at Indiana
The Set-Up: Despite a modest three-game winning streak, Ohio State had struggled in 2012-13 against ranked teams (2-7 coming in) and on the road. Indiana had just one home loss all season, and the nation’s second ranked team was looking to clinch an outright Big Ten title for the first time since 1993. It was senior night in Bloomington, to boot.
How OSU Won: Much like it had in other road games at Duke, Michigan State and Michigan, OSU played solid, enjoying second half leads, and in position for a huge quality win away from Columbus. With foul trouble keeping Hoosiers’ stars Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo on the bench in the first half, the Buckeyes lead 28-25 at intermission. IU opened the second half with a 14-6 run to stake a 39-34 lead. However, the Buckeyes weathered that storm (with a nasty winter one brewing outside), and answered with their own 14-4 run to go up by five. It was 50-48 OSU late when Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft made huge baskets down the stretch for a 67-58 win.
What It Meant: It remains to be seen what the end result is with the Big Ten title, Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament all still ahead. For now, it gives Ohio State a chance (with a win Sunday over Illinois and a Indiana loss at Michigan) to win a share of its fourth straight Big Ten championship. This game could move higher on the list. It also gave the Buckeyes their third win over a top-five team this year, and a huge victory on the road. It was the first time in 26 years that OSU beat a top-two ranked team as the visitor. Finally, it could end up being a signal that this Buckeye team could be dangerous in the coming month.
#3 March 4, 2012 at Michigan State
The Set-Up: Even though Ohio State entered this game with a 24-6 record, the Buckeyes hadn’t been playing their best basketball recently, evenly splitting the previous six games. Trailing the first-place Spartans by two games entering the week, OSU beat Northwestern 75-73 three days earlier, and one day after MSU fell at Indiana.
How OSU Won: The hometown team went on a 12-0 run early, part of a 19-7 lead that would balloon to 24-9. The Buckeyes never panicked, though, and clawed their way back into the game. Trailing 70-68 with under a minute to play, Aaron Craft’s jumper knotted the score. Then, with only one second remaining, William Buford’s rainbow found the pot of gold, as The Buckeyes pulled off the 72-70 win in East Lansing.
What It Meant: Buford—who has his own senior day ruined a week earlier by Wisconsin—got to turn the same trick and spoil Draymond Green’s night. It was OSU’s first win over an AP top five team on the road since 1991 at Indiana. The Buckeyes shared the Big Ten title (third straight) with Michigan State and Michigan, and regained confidence following a couple of wobbly weeks leading up. While the Spartans got revenge in the Big Ten Tournament championship game, OSU beat Loyola, Gonzaga, Cincinnati and Syracuse on the way to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament.
#2 February 27, 2007 vs. Wisconsin
The Set-Up: Ohio State cruised into the final home game of the year with a 12-game winning streak, and with a chance to amend the last loss, facing the AP’s top-ranked team, Wisconsin. With the Buckeyes at number two, it was the first time in Big Ten history that two Big Ten teams met in a #1 vs. #2 game. Since then, number one and number two in the AP have met only once.
How OSU Won: It was a taut, back and forth affair, with the game’s largest lead at six. Big Ten Player of the Year Alando Tucker scored with just under a minute to play to give Wisconsin a 48-47 lead. After a missed free throw from the Badgers, the Buckeyes had another chance. Mike Conley, Jr. drove the lane and made a runner with just four seconds left for a 49-48 advantage. Ron Lewis blocked Wisconsin’s last chance, and the Schottenstein Center crowd went crazy.
What It Meant: Ohio State clinched a share of its second straight Big Ten title in knocking off the AP’s number one team (for the second time in Matta’s three years). It was part of a 22-game winning streak that ended in the NCAA Championship game.
#1 March 6, 2005 vs. Illinois
The Set-Up: College Basketball hadn’t seen an undefeated team since Indiana in 1975-76 (still waiting) and many thought that the 2004-05 Illinois squad could be the one to do it. Bruce Weber’s bunch came to Columbus ranked number one in the polls with a perfect 29-0 record. Ohio State, meanwhile, was under a self-imposed post-season ban for NCAA infractions, and entered with a 18-12 mark in the final game of the regular season, Thad Matta’s first as a Buckeye.
How OSU Won: After falling down 18-6, the Buckeyes stayed in striking distance the rest of the first half. However, the Illini went up 41-29 on a Luther Head triple in the second half, but a later 14-6 OSU run whittled the lead to four. James Augustine’ bucket with 3:23 remaining made it 64-58, but the Buckeyes didn’t quit. Terence Dials and Matt Sylvester scored on back-to-back possessions to cut it two 64-62. With 12 seconds left, OSU called time-out after a defensive rebound. Deciding to go for the win, a play was drawn up for Sylvester, who canned a three with 5.1 to play, good for a 65-64 lead. Illinois’ prayer at the buzzer went unanswered, and the Buckeyes had the upset of the year in college basketball.
What It Meant: The win, coupled with a victory over Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament the following week, allowed OSU to get to 20 wins, the fifth straight time in Thad Matta’s career he had done so (that streak is now at 13). Without an NCAA or NIT appearance to be had, this was as good as the Buckeyes’ season could get. The biggest impact, though, was the validation of Matta as the Buckeyes’ head coach. This victory put the OSU program on the map, and while the Bucks might have gotten to their current level without it, this win sure went a long way toward reaching that goal. The NBA’s decision to not allow players to be drafted who hadn’t been out of high school for at least a year opened up college to players like Greg Oden and Daequan Cook. Those two, along with Mike Conley, Jr. and David Lighty formed a recruiting class at Ohio State that would transform the program forever.
To be certain, there are other games that could have made this list. Wins over Memphis and Georgetown in the 2007 NCAA Tournament were certainly huge, as was the victory over Syracuse last March that got the Buckeyes to the Final Four.
Last season, the Bucks won in Madison over Wisconsin for the first time since 2000, and in 2006 triumphed in East Lansing for the first time over Michigan State since 1992.
If Ohio State can build off of Tuesday win at Indiana, who knows?
Maybe there will be new games to add to this list.