Ohio State will face No. 6 Virginia tonight in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, but a decade and a day ago the Buckeyes took part in a high-powered shootout in the 2006 version of the series. After opening the season with six comfortable wins by an average of 26.2 points per game, No. 3 Ohio State prepared for a Big Ten-ACC Showdown against No. 7 North Carolina at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.
It's been a full decade since Greg Oden, Mike Conley and the "Thad Five" helped power Ohio State to its first appearance in the national championship game since 1960. With the most high-profile recruiting class in program history and a mix of key veterans, the Buckeyes would finish 35-4 and lose to Florida, 84-75, in the title game held inside Atlanta's Georgia Dome.
To commemorate that season, The Dispatch is running a season-long feature. Key periods or games will be recalled in online-only oral histories, allowing members of the 2006-07 Ohio State men's basketball team to take you through the year as they saw it unfold. This is the second installment in the series; read the first one here.
Ohio State will face No. 6 Virginiatonightin the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, but a decade and a day ago the Buckeyes took part in a high-powered shootout in the 2006 version of the series. After opening the season with six comfortable wins by an average of 26.2 points per game, No. 3 Ohio State prepared for a Big Ten-ACC Showdown against No. 7 North Carolina at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Ron Lewis, senior guard: I think (coach Thad Matta) took it as a big challenge for us. Nobody was nervous or anything of that nature. I think everybody was really excited just to be able to play this type of game and show that we can play and that we are capable of doing big things this year, even when Greg (Oden) was out.
Matt Terwilliger, junior center: That was a little bit different from the other games. It was exciting because that was the first test for the team, which to be honest we had a little bit of a chip on our shoulder going into that game. At least for myself I had watched a little bit of the lead-up to the game in the media. The national media had made several comments as to, "Well, we don't really know why this team is ranked as high as they are with Greg not playing." That wasn't a huge motivator, but it was something in the back of our minds that even though we feel like we're really good, there's still people that think we don't belong here just because Greg's not playing.
Mark Titus, freshman walk-on: The North Carolina game was like the start of the season for a lot of us. We viewed a lot of the other games as still exhibition games and North Carolina was going to be the game that we kind of would come way knowing how good we were, one way or the other. That was a game everyone circled as this is the first big game, the first meaningful game. You're not supposed to say those things. You're supposed to take it one game at a time, but I think everyone would agree that's when the season got underway.
Terwilliger: I had taken an official visit to Notre Dame and I had met Dick Vitale when I was there. I went to say hi to him, and he spoke the exact same way off camera as he does on camera. It is not a character. That is Dick Vitale. I remember when I was at Notre Dame, he started talking in his phrases: "Oh, hey, if you're at Notre Dame you must be a PTPer!" I'm like, "This is real. This guy really talks like this." He was on the court when we walked out to do our shoot-around the night before and he was doing the same thing to all the guys: "The Buckeyes, in the house! Big game! Ranked No. 3!" That is what I remember. Then I remember he came up and slapped a couple guys on the back and used a lot of muscle. I think Dave almost fell over. We did not anticipate Dick Vitale putting that kind of strength into the back slap.
Lewis: I still relive some of the moments from that day. It was great, especially having Dick Vitale commentate the whole game. That was my first time with him commentating our game and it was great. The centerpiece, you're on TV, Dick Vitale, one of the biggest games of the year, it was great.
Ohio State would play the game without No. 1 recruit Greg Oden. The center was making progress from offseason surgery on his right (shooting) wrist but not quite ready for game action.
Oden: It was all up to Vinny (athletic trainer Vince O'Brien), actually. I would've gone out there with one hand if I had to. It was up to Vinny and he had to make sure. I feel like with that type of game, if you've got some type of injury he probably still could've said yeah but with that type of game you're going to try to do something because your emotions are going to be running so high. Not to down (our next opponent) Valpo or anything, but that atmosphere was just a little bit different.
Matta: I wanted to get him healthy, and we wanted nothing to happen in terms of his health. I remember it wasn't even an issue like he was going to play. I think we had targeted that (following)Saturdayfor the comeback.
Oden: ESPN the Magazine, they had me in my Ohio State gear (on the cover), but they showed us and they showed North Carolina as the top recruiting classes that year. I wanted to play that game because it was the recruiting classes and I felt like we were shorthanded since I wasn't out there. But I understood why. You don't want to rush things back because it won't be good in the long run. It was North Carolina. I've never played in that type of atmosphere. Everybody wants to play there, you know?
Titus: He was cleared for one-on-one but not scrimmages yet. We had two courts in the practice gym, and we're running scrimmage on one and Greg and Kyle (Madsen) are on this other basket just posting up. They have a manager throwing Greg a post feed and then he's backing down Kyle and dunking him. Then he does it again and then he does it again and this goes on for the entire practice. There were a handful of times in practice where all of a sudden you would just hear a loud bang, the entire scrimmage would stop and you'd look at Kyle lying on the floor and Greg hanging on the rim. I remember coach Matta having to stop practice and blow his whistle and yell at Greg like, "Greg, calm down, it's OK."
Kyle Madsen, redshirt freshman center: I know once he came back to practice that was who everybody had been waiting to see, right? He and I definitely spent some time playing together because we were a little bit off to the side sometimes when they would start to go through some of the in-game stuff, since we weren't going to be playing. So we'd just play one-on-one and I remember thinking, "Yeah, I think he's going to be all right." Obviously, he was.
Titus: Greg's like the nicest, gentlest guy off the court but as soon as he stepped on the court he was trying to dunk on everybody. The thing that stood out to me wasn't that he was dunking on Kyle. It wasn't that he would dunk super hard on him and then literally the next play he was like, "OK, I just dunked on you, now let me work on my baby hook. Nope, I'm going to dunk on you again. And again. The coaches are going to have to pull me away to keep me from dunking on you."
Coach Thad Matta brought a relaxed demeanor to the build-up.
Titus: This was our first road game. I wouldn't say anybody was nervous, but it was an odd feeling doing that versus playing at home. Coach Matta called a film session the night before the game to refresh us on North Carolina's plays and players and all that, and he just shows the "meatloaf" scene from Wedding Crashers instead of showing any plays. Everyone was just dying laughing and he gets up and was like, "This is what I want you guys to do. Just go have fun. No one thinks you have any chance of winning. Greg's not healthy. We're the youngest team I've ever coached. I don't want you to overthink anything. Just go play basketball and have fun. It's a long season and we'll be fine."
Matta: I don't remember that. I'm sure I did, but I don't remember that. That to me is one of the all-time greatest scenes of movies I've ever seen.
Oden: What's really unusual for film session with Thad? We watched Old School or Wedding Crashers before the national championship game. Ma! The meatloaf! I know what it did for me: it relaxed me. When you get in such a big game everybody has their nerves on but when coach puts that on, you have no choice. That's one of my favorite movies so it's like, "Yeah, I'm good. I'm laughing, I'm good."
Terwilliger: I remember coach Matta enjoying that clip. The specific timing I don't remember. I couldn't tell you that I remember that specifically, but I do remember him enjoying that clip, though.
Titus: You've got the clock in the locker room showing how much time is left and it's down to1:45and we're like, 'Shoot, we've got to get back out there, coach.' Then it gets down to like a minute 30 and he comes walking into the locker room with a towel around his neck and he's holding both ends of the towel. It's dead silent and then he locks eyes with all the players and he just says, 'What the (expletive) do you want?' in that Will Ferrell voice from Wedding Crashers when he comes down the stairs. He's this shadowy figure and just stares. The whole room just starts dying laughing. Then we huddle up and go out there and play North Carolina."
Lewis: I can't remember (laughs). For me, I was ready to show that our team was ready. As an individual, I was ready to show that I could play with the top tier of players since it was my senior year and trying to be able to get drafted and stuff like that. I was ready to perform and try to show that I could play. I took it from the beginning that I was going to be the leader on the team. Nobody seen that I was nervous. Everybody seen that I was focused and ready and determined and they followed.
Ohio State led 48-44 at halftime and 68-63 with10:50to play but fell, 98-89. Lewis finished with a game-high 30 points, while senior Ivan Harris had 17, freshman Daequan Cook added 14 and classmate Mike Conley Jr. had eight assists.
Matta: I remember Ron had a great game. Michael kind of came into his own in that game. I remember we opened with line 4, Othello dunked it but Daequan had that dunk along the baseline. That was just one of those high-powered basketball games.
Lewis: Man, I just felt the moment and I felt that I had to start it off. As they were freshmen, they were going to look for somebody to lead them in that game and they hadn't been in that type of scenario before and didn't know how to take it. I just took it upon myself to start the charge. I think we felt great, man. Mike, he's not really a guy that gets too rattled. He was able to control the tempo of the game and that helped us out a lot. We felt real confident that we could win and we could get it done. Unfortunately we didn't.
Terwilliger: The quiet confidence that was there is that everyone on the team, we knew we were good. Across the board, we felt like we were as good if not better than that team, hands-down. It's North Carolina basketball. It's supposed to be a level above where you are, and when we got out there that was not the case at all. We were like, we can beat these guys.
Madsen: I watched it with some of my friends in the dorm, because the rules just meant I had to stay back. I was truly not allowed to go, which was a frustrating theme to the season for me. Daequan had a good game. That's what I remember most. I remember sitting there laughing, watching the game saying, "Oh, there's Daequan being Daequan like he is in practice" and in the rest of his life. I remember thinking, "Wow, I knew these guys were good but now I think everybody else gets the point, too."
Matta: The one thing I remember about that gym was it was about 110 degrees in there. By halftime my pant legs were sticking to my legs. That was one of the highest-powered games I've ever been a part of. In terms of the atmosphere, 22,000 or whatever they hold, it was the loudest gym I think I've ever been in.
Terwilliger: I think back on when people ask me what the loudest place I've ever played was, there was one instance in that game that was louder than anything I've ever been a part of. (North Carolina center Tyler) Hansbrough got a steal and went down and dunked it and that place – we played at Michigan State every year, which is one of the most lively places I've ever been – it was like standing behind a jet engine, it was so loud in there. I don't know what it was, but it was literally like the air was getting sucked out of the room. It was so loud. The whole world was vibrating.
Lewis: I remember one point in the game where it got the loudest I have ever heard an arena in my life. Hansbrough got a dunk and it got the loudest I've ever heard an arena in my life. You know how your ears, you hear that little sound when something is loud? That's how loud it got in there.
Titus: I remember Ron taking over. I remember Daequan had a nasty dunk on Danny Green on an underneath out of bounds play. I remember Tyler Hansbrough had a breakaway dunk and I've never heard an arena as loud as it got when he dunked it. That was when Carolina was making their comeback. I remember being blown away by Mike.
Terwilliger: I think I said earlier, we thought we could beat them. What I meant to say was we knew we were better than them. Not that we think we can sneak this out and maybe beat them. It was, "We are a better team than they are."
Oden: I remember the last couple minutes of the game like, 'Please put me out there. Please.' I wasn't even dressed. I just wanted to get out there.
The freshman got his wishthree days laterwhen, at the16:10mark of the first half, he made his Ohio State debut against Valparaiso. He would finish with 14 points and 10 reboundsin 23 minuteswhile shooting free throws left-handed.
Oden: I remember it was a few days before, because I remember someone asked me, "So whatcha gonna do when you get fouled?" I was like, "We've got two days. Oh, shoot! I probably need to start shooting from free throws!" I just told myself, "Don't airball it." That's literally how I went into it: "Don't airball."
Madsen: I remember him being introduced and I remember everybody standing and clapping pretty loudly. I think that time period, the close game at North Carolina was kind of validation for everybody on the team thinking, 'All right, we can do this, and once Greg comes back, watch out.'
Lewis: I remember it exactly because before I was getting a lot of shots. (laughs) It wasn't a bad thing. We wanted Greg to come in and feel comfortable and we knew he was going to be our centerpiece. That first game, I remember we were just trying to give him the ball every possession down for him to feel comfortable and for him to know we're going through you. If we go through you, it'll open everything up for everybody else. It was just a great feeling for us.
Oden: It was a decent game, but I do remember that I did not get a dunk that game. That's usually how I relax: get me a dunk, OK, now I'm here. I didn't get a dunk that game so it still had me going like, "Oh shoot. You ain't here yet."
Matta: I just remember when we put him in, his warm-up got stuck on his cast and we couldn't get if off. He was at the scorer's table trying to get it off. That was a long time coming. Those guys were the guys we targeted day one when we got here in recruiting. I was just excited for Greg because he wanted to be out there so bad. I wanted him to get out there and get into the flow of it. I was happy to see him get out there because of everything he had been doing leading up to that point.
Titus: The thing that made Greg so good was that he had great hands and great footwork. To watch him that game, I remember him bobbling balls and stammering with his footwork here and there. I could tell he was super nervous. The thing that stood out to me was how the fans were just so excited to see him. Everybody's heard a lot about him, we watched the North Carolina game, you have our attention, basketball team. Show us what you can do here. Greg was definitely nervous. He was more nervous for that game than he was for the national championship, which is really funny to me. I rarely ever see him nervous but I could definitely tell he was nervous. He was a little off. I remember plays where I thought he was going to dunk it and he wouldn't dunk and he just kind of laid it in because he wanted to make sure that he made it.
Terwilliger: It was a very finesse, fluid offense that the coaches made very clear as soon as Greg was back, he will touch the ball. Even if he throws it right back out, he's going to touch the ball every time we're on offense. The offense will run in some form or fashion through him and he will be involved in every play, which made sense because he's going to be the No. 1 overall draft pick. Why wouldn't we do that? It was just different and it took some getting used to, just because we were used to a very free-flowing offense and this became a little bit more structured. I know ultimately it made us a lot better but it was just difficult to adjust to at the beginning.
Oden: Nervous. My mouth was super dry. By the time I came into the game I was like, 'Oh shoot. This is real now.' Because there was so much build-up, especially for me. It was like, 'It's real now.'