It's been a full decade since Greg Oden, Mike Conley and the "Thad Four" 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 continuing 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.
After winning the Big Ten regular season title outright and then taking the conference tournament title, Ohio State was rewarded with a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament – but not the overall No. 1 seed. That went to defending champ Florida.
Ron Lewis, senior guard: It was a lot of excitement. We had a good team, expectations were high and we still had to prove ourselves. I remember exactly that we didn’t get the overall No. 1 seed. I think we got second, because of Florida, so we were still trying to prove ourselves. Really everybody was excited.
Greg Oden, freshman center: I didn't understand how we ended the season ranked No. 1 but didn't get the all-out No. 1 seed for the tournament.
Mark Titus, freshman walk-on: Honestly, I think a lot of us were surprised that we didn’t get the overall No. 1. Obviously they proved to be the better team and maybe the committee knew what they were talking about but I think a lot of us in that moment thought we deserved the No. 1 overall because we just beat the brakes off of Wisconsin, which was a top-five team. We felt like we had done enough to get an overall No. 1 seed.
Danny Peters, freshman walk-on: I didn’t have that huge of a role and wasn’t that good of a player and I’m still not to this day, but you sit in that room (on Selection Sunday) and watch those guys around you, you have a sense of confidence in those guys you’re with in terms of how we’re going to do things and how we play and our ability. We felt like the world was ours at times. It kind of felt disappointed and angry that we didn’t get the overall No. 1 seed. I felt like, we earned that outright. We beat Wisconsin at home, we just swept through the Big Ten tournament and when you perform to that level it’s kind of exciting.
Lewis: My brother used to always tell me, ‘Don’t let ‘em lose, Lew. Whatever you do, don’t let ‘em lose.’ There were only four of us that had any experience at (the NCAA Tournament). I really took it upon myself to be like, ‘I’m going to set the tone, just let everybody know there’s no playing games in this. One and done. You have a bad game, it’s over for you.’
Riding a 17-game winning streak, the Buckeyes took their 30-3 record into a first-round game against No. 16 seed Central Connecticut State inside the University of Kentucky’s Rupp Arena. Ohio State won handily, 78-57, after opening with a 17-3 lead.
Oden: We knew their mascot was the Blue Devils. Coach made sure we respected them.
Lewis: I just know we went through our regular routine of scouting and going over their plays and knowing their players. We knew it wasn’t going to be the same caliber type of game, but anybody that makes the tournament is fair game. They’re in there for a reason. We knew it wasn’t going to be the same caliber, but we knew we had to come to play to set the tone.
Peters and Titus got to play during the final minute, and Peters was credited with a turnover that remains controversial to this day.
Peters: I remember specifically coming into that game, the guys from Central Connecticut that they brought in off the bench. They saw me and their eyes lit up and they were like, ‘Feast. I’m going to get a steal and a dunk in the NCAA Tournament.’ They came in and they were jawing a little bit, saying some things, just the competitiveness of college basketball. I wasn’t the greatest athlete and I needed some warm-up before I got to running around out there full-speed with these athletes that were ready to eat me alive.
Matt Terwilliger, junior center: Danny Joe Peters has been one of my best friends since we were 13 years old. He got in the game and he got just past half-court and threw a lob towards the end of the game. I think he threw it to Ivan (Harris), and Ivan didn’t jump so it just hit the bottom of the backboard and went out of bounds. We just got on him like, ‘Danny, that was one of the most horrible passes in the history of Ohio State basketball. What are you doing? You just got in the game.’ We rode him pretty hard for that pass when in reality I think it was probably a pretty good lob, Ivan just didn’t jump.
Peters: Ivan did point to the sky. I want you to know that. He will deny that to this day, but I have the film and if I can break down the film to you I promise he pointed to the sky and said, ‘Lob, lob, lob.’ As only Ivan could do, he would ask for something that he was not yet ready to receive and messed up the whole situation to the point now where Mark says to me, ‘Danny, make sure your feet are set.’
Xavier advanced, setting up a showdown between in-state rivals that also pitted Matta against the program he had left three years prior.
Terwilliger: For me, and I would hope that some of the other guys felt the same way, it was, ‘We’ve got to find a way to make sure that coach Matta wins this game. We want to win, because we are competitors, but we’ve got to make sure coach Matta beats Xavier.’ He’d just come from there. Plus there’s always that chip on the shoulder on the other teams in Ohio, at least at that time, because there was the perception that Ohio State wouldn’t play anybody.
Lewis: They were tough because all five guys could shoot. They were picking and popping and we weren’t used to that. With Greg, he can get out there but it’s not normal for him to guard those types of players. They also had Justin Cage, who was playing the 4, and he’s an undersized 6-6 playing the 4 or 5 and it’s tough to guard those types of players. It was a thing we had to adjust to.
Titus: The goal was the Final Four. It might have been why we had the close game with Xavier, because we were looking too far ahead. For us, arrogance, confidence, whatever you call it, we felt we were assured of getting into the Elite Eight at least and probably should be a Final Four team. ‘We might have a decent game in the Elite Eight, but we’ll win that handily as well.’
What happened next was the stuff of legends. Ron Lewis’ shot in the final seconds sent it to overtime, where Mike Conley Jr. took over to lead a 78-71 win. But before Lewis’ shot came Oden fouling out of the game with 9.3 seconds left and sending the Musketeers to the line to shoot two free throws while holding a two-point lead.
Oden: Yeah, after I made that foul all I thought was, ‘This year's over, and I might get a spring break.’
Lewis: I just knew he (Cage) was gonna miss. I don’t know how or whatever. I told Mike at the free-throw line after his first free throw, ‘Give me the ball.’ After that, they got the rebound, he got the ball, I was looking to get open to get it and I knew he was trying to find someone, trying to make a play. We’ve done it before in the Tennessee game where he handed off to me before for a shot. It just so happened to work the same way where he’s penetrating across the three-point line and I’m coming across for the handoff. At that moment I’m like, ‘I’ve gotta shoot it.’ I look, take one dribble and I’m like, ‘I’ve gotta shoot it for game.’ It leaves my hand and in the air I’m thinking form, thinking about the rules, and I shoot it and I’m like, ‘This is good.’ *laughs*
Terwilliger: I remember as soon as Ron got to that spot on the floor and he went up to shoot I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is in.’ I’ve seen him make this 30 times a day in practice. He’s getting to that spot in motion, in his rhythm shooting motion with the run he was having. He was playing well in the Big Ten tournament. That was one of those things where you’ve got the feeling as the play was unfolding that you knew what was about to happen here.
Oden: My head was still down in disbelief that the season was still over and (then) everyone's jumping up and down and I’m like, ‘Wait, it's not over?’
Peters: Maybe if he doesn’t make that, Mike Conley comes back as a sophomore and we don’t go to the NIT and things change a little bit and coach Matta has a little more success maybe that next year or third year. Mike Conley got drafted because of what he did in overtime. He screwed our program for two years – and that’s all in sarcasm, but at the same time it’s what made him special. Kudos to him for being able to perform on that stage with that pressure and the mentality that went into it with the game on the line and how our team had been playing up until that. Mike started his legacy of who he became on a national stage.
Lewis: That sticks with me all the time. Every time around this time (of year), everybody, a lot of people will tweet me and say, ‘I still remember where I was at when you hit that shot.’ That puts a smile on my face and brings back all the memories of the times we had. Hitting that shot, it never gets old to me. My son can do it (Gus Johnson’s call of the play from the broadcast), too. The whole call. He knows it. It never gets old to me. Coming back from where we were down, they thought they had the game won, it was great.
The emotions were, ‘I’m not going out like that.’ I felt like that was my, not coming out but showing that I was ready for that moment. That was my feeling: I’m ready, I’m supposed to be here and I’m ready for this moment. Not a coming-out party or anything like that, just ready for the moment, I can live in the moment and be that type of player.
That led to a trip to San Antonio for the Sweet 16.
Peters: We stayed in a hotel on the Riverwalk and Mark and I got this little room. I’m telling you, this thing was tiny. It had single twin beds or whatever. We’re in there and we’re like, ‘Man, they pissed on us, didn’t they?’ So we go over to this door that connects, we open the door and there’s this huge, huge suite that connects to it. ‘Hold up, did we get this suite?’ There’s this long balcony between the two of them that goes across the Riverwalk. We kept the suite unlocked the whole week that we were there. I remember there was somebody next to us, maybe the SID, and we put a chair in front of his door so we could have the suite to ourselves. Family was coming up and hanging out. We’re watching games and ordering food and we went from this little room to this amazing suite at that hotel. I remember that with Mark laughing about it and enjoying it. We had three bathrooms, a kitchen. The other guys were like, ‘Our room sucks, man! It’s all small.’ We’d be like, ‘Come on down and we’ll show you our room.’ The maids are coming each day and we’re trying to tape down the door so they can’t lock it.
No. 5 seed Tennessee would lead by as many as 20 during the first half and by 17 at the break but Ohio State was ready.
Peters: Before our game, Texas A&M was playing Memphis. We were in the Alamodome and coach Matta was at the urinal and Ivan was next to him and Ivan was like, ‘Who’s playing right now?’ He had no idea how the whole thing worked. Coach Matta said, ‘I think it’s a high school game, I’m not sure. I’ll have to look.’ And Ivan believed him. Ivan had no idea who was playing.
David Lighty, freshman forward: Ron was definitely a more serious guy. Get in someone’s face at practice and things like that. He’d light a little fire under them. Ivan was easygoing. He just wanted to win basketball games and shoot threes. He was a vet though. He’d been around, our four-man stretching the floor for us. We called him the microwave because once he got going, we had to find him. He just made us that much more dangerous.
Terwilliger: The last two venues that we played in, it took forever to get to the locker room because they were such big facilities. We had these long walkways that we had to go down and I remember walking by a Tennessee fan talking to a Memphis fan at halftime and the Tennessee fan saying, ‘Oh my God, I can’t wait to play you guys in the next round.’ All I remember coach Matta saying is, “We’re fine.’ You’re around groups and you can tell when they’re tight-knit and you can tell that groups play well toether, because we didn’t have to say anything to each other. I use the example of that halftime all the time as a true team functioning the way it should.
Oden: We came back from 20 down by chipping away at it, taking it one stop and one basket at a time. The spark was David Lighty's bucket right before half.
Lewis: We came out at halftime and Mike said to me, ‘Look. Look at them. They already think they won.’ Their whole, swag on the court was like, ‘Man, this game is over.’ They weren’t ready to play. We just kept playing. We believed. Once we came back from one game, we still believed that we could do it again. We still had that look in our eyes like we could win this game, and we did.
Titus: You go back and rewatch the film (from a December loss at Florida) and you’re like, ‘Man, if we could’ve just calmed down at this point here where we were down 10 maybe we could’ve (won).’ That’s something that later on in the season we looked back on and said, ‘Let’s not make that mistake again. So when we were down 20 just before halftime to Tennessee it was, ‘We’re still in this. Chip away at it.’
Lewis: He came across the lane and blocked that shot. It was unbelievable where he came from. That shows what type of player he is, a defensive stopper coming over and helping us out to get that victory. I know for me, I grabbed him right after and yelled, ‘Let’s go!’ you know Greg, his stoic face, he was just like, ‘I know.’ I was just so excited that we won the game and we’re still living out this moment and this dream.
Terwilliger: Against Tennessee, Danny Joe again being the butt of the joke. I don’t know why it was a reoccurring theme for a few weeks there, but we were running out on the court to celebrate after the win. Danny was running and Othello (Hunter) tripped him and he fell on the court. All the teams and support staff were watching videos on the screen at the Final Four and the last video they showed was us celebrating and then Danny getting tripped.
Peters: Every game was life or death. That’s how I still am. It matters to me and that’s what I care about. I’m not here to tell you I wasn’t in the locker room cutting those dudes right back up. I was right at their neck right before mine, so don’t think for a second that stuff wasn’t earned. We still talk today. There’s never been any ill will or bad feelings about it.
Now only No. 2 seed Memphis stood in the way of a trip to the Final Four. Tigers center Joey Dorsey added some theatrics to the event with some well-publicized pregame trash talk.
Terwilliger: He called him versus Greg ‘David versus Goliath’ but in his infinite wisdom I don’t think he ever read the story because he called himself Goliath and Greg David.
Peters: I remember my father (associate director of basketball operations Dan Peters) laughing when he read it. He had a former manager who was on staff at the time at Memphis. He’s laughing with those guys like, ‘Who allowed him to say that?’
Oden: I really remember a lot of Memphis’ bigs were talking mess in the papers about me so I was focused from the jump, but also a lot of the guys on the Memphis team we played a lot in AAU basketball.
Terwilliger: At first when we heard the quotes, because they put them all over the screen in the video sessions, I don’t think it bothered Gregg one bit. I don’t’ think anything has ever bothered Greg one bit, but it bugged us. It was like him coming after all of us by saying that and then we all thought he was kind of dumb for not knowing the story. It was an attack on him, so we viewed it as an attack on us.
Dorsey didn’t score, and Ohio State turned a three-point halftime lead into a 92-76 win and celebrated by cutting down the nets.
Terwilliger: We were one of the few teams in the country that could really match up with that motion offense because they used to do a triple handoff at the top of the key and keep doing that until they got a mismatch. But they couldn’t really get a mismatch 1 through 3 because we had Conley, who was a freak athlete, and then we had either Lewis, Lighty or Ivan, who were freak athletes, and then we had Jamar, who was one of the best defenders to ever play at Ohio State. It played into our hands.
Peters: When we beat Memphis, obviously my father was on the staff as a time and as a kid we talked about enjoying that experience and thinking about it in the back yard, shooting your free throws and going to the Final Four and the NCAA Tournament. Matt and I have known each other for a long, long time. To be able to share that with those people, I was so happy to see what they did and the work they invested and see their excitement and share that with them.
Lewis: Cutting the nets down, it was surreal in that big arena.