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.
In this final installment, the Buckeyes reach their first Final Four since the now-vacated 1998-99 season after beating Memphis in San Antonio to win the South regional. First up: a date with No. 2 Georgetown out of the East regional.
Matt Terwilliger, junior center: Georgetown, we were, I don’t want to say concerned, but we knew they would be a different type of difficult team to play against. We watched a lot of film on some of the things that beat us against Northwestern, because Georgetown runs that Princeton offense with back cuts. The only difference between Georgetown and Northwestern at that time was they ran the same unorthodox offense but also had NBA-caliber athletes at every position, so that made it that much more difficult.
Ron Lewis, senior guard: The level of excitement was there. I think you saw smiles but you didn’t see a lot of laughter or joking because we’re here at the Final Four now. We’ve got a real tough team in Georgetown that’s been in that situation before and with veteran players. We had to be focused and be ready to go. We had our ‘we’re here’ moment but then our focused moment like, ‘OK, we have to be ready for this game.’
Danny Peters, walk-on freshman guard: How many times do a dad and his son get to go to the Final Four together? Before the Georgetown game I remember walking over to him (dad Dan Peters, Ohio State’s associate director of basketball operations) during warmups and we were sitting on the sideline and my mom took a picture of it. I remember being like, ‘Are we at the Final Four together? This is amazing!’ It was like, ‘This is our time to soak it in.’
David Lighty, freshman forward: They had just beat us the year before (in the NCAA Tournament), and beat us kind of good. I remember watching the game at home and O-State couldn’t buy a bucket that game. A little revenge, maybe, trying to get some payback from the year before. That was on some guys’ minds, or mine at least.
Coach Thad Matta had given the players a pamphlet on Atlanta when they gathered for the first day of practice. It wasn’t their only motivation to get to Atlanta.
Terwilliger: You know what was the underlying motivation the entire year? When we played at Minnesota, we went to this restaurant called Fogo de Chao. It was unbelievable. Everyone was blown away at how good it was, so the coaches looked it up and said, ‘Hey, there’s one in Atlanta, so the only way we’re going back to this place is if we go to the Final Four.’ I want to say that was probably the driving factor and that alone, was to get back to Fogo de Chao. (laughs)
Mark Titus, freshman walk-on: He’s absolutely right. We went to Fogo de Chao in Minnesota and it rocked every single person’s world. We were blown away by the concept of it. We were like, ‘Why do we not eat at this place every single place we go?’
A hyped battle between star big men Greg Oden and Georgetown’s Roy Hibbert didn’t really materialize due to a tightly officiated game. Both finished with four fouls, and Oden scored all 13 of his points in the second half and pulled down all but one of his nine rebounds.
Oden: The officiating kept me out of the first half but it wasn't too bad in the second since we won.
Titus: I was real confident in the Georgetown game. Even when Greg went down (with foul trouble), we still matched up well with them. They were slow and methodical and kind of played like a Big Ten team. It was one of those games we didn’t have to play our best to win. I went into the Final Four looking at Florida and that was it. That was the only team I was worried about, and for good reason I guess.
Terwilliger: My memories of that game were that we won so now we’re going to the national championship, and the rest of that is my selfish memories: Me getting the tap-out steal and then Daequan (Cook) going down and missing the layup and me tipping it in. I want to say that was in the first half, too, so I outscored Greg in far less minutes.
Lighty played 25 minutes against the Hoyas. He finished with only five points but held Jeff Green to nine.
Lighty: After Hibbert, we knew he was their guy. Game planning around him and trying to take some stress away from him was going to be big. I was smaller but I was strong enough and quick enough to make it real hectic for him. And the scheme the coaches came up with, me fronting him a lot, just making it difficult to get good looks for him in their offense was something that worked out for us.
Peters: You have to tip your hat to David Lighty in that game. He was such a jack-of-all-trades and he played so differently in all of these games. There were times when he wouldn’t be called upon at all and there were times he’d come in and lock up Jeff Green and he did such a special job at that stuff that it made our team better. When you can win 1 through 12 and not 1 through 5, it makes your team so much better. Dave did that. He brought an enthusiasm regardless of what his role was. It’s a testament to who he is as a player and as a person, to be ready in those moments because it’s not easy.
The foul trouble didn’t stop Oden from attempting a near-miraculous second-half dunk against Green that has been immortalized with an iconic photo.
Oden: The almost-dunk was against Georgetown over Jeff Green. His mom and my mom are now best friends. I was thinking in the air I had to throw it in close to the back of the rim to make more noise and impact and, for a second, I actually thought I made it.
Titus: In his defense, he was fouled. I think it could’ve maybe been a charge too. There’s a lot of refs that could’ve called it a charge.
Terwilliger: We saw him catch the ball and we saw him gather, but I didn’t think he was going to try to dunk it. He literally took a drop-step from a couple inches behind the free-throw line and went up off of two feet. I was like, ‘He’s not going to dunk that. What is he doing? Is this like a hook shot? Oh my God, he’s going to try? Oh my God, he’s going to try and dunk it!’ And he almost did. And then it was like, ‘Oh my God, his wrist. Don’t land on your wrist. Don’t break your wrist.’ Then once he was fine and he got up it was like, ‘That was almost one of the best dunks of all-time.’
Lewis: If he would’ve made that it probably would’ve been one of the best dunks ever. That was a moment where it was like, ‘Wow.’ I think everybody in the crowd gasped, a little bit shook but a little bit like, ‘Wow, these boys are really here.’ I think they took us a little bit more serious and it gave us the advantage at that point. For us it was like, ‘Ooooh, make it, but don’t get hurt.’
Peters: Amazingly everyone stands up and I’m the only one blocked out of (the picture). It’s like, ‘Damn. That’s the most important photo of the year, man.’ That was special.
Titus: I still think he made it almost. The shock of him even trying it, the photo doesn’t do it justice. You saw Jamar throw Greg the ball and you’re like, ‘No Jamar, what are you doing? He’s a big dude and he’s at the free-throw line, what’s he going to do?’ And then it was a split second of, ‘No, bad pass’ to ‘Oh my God!’ I think I’ve trained my mind to think that he made it, but that’s something I’ll remember the rest of my life. In his
Lighty: I’m not sure how he missed. Maybe he was going too fast? He should’ve passed it to me. I was wide open, man.
Ohio State prevailed, 67-60, and drew a showdown with defending national champion Florida, which had walloped the Buckeyes earlier that season. In between games, Lewis drew headlines for publicly describing the Gators as a good team, not a great one.
Lewis: They made a big deal that I said they’re a good team. They were like, ‘Well, they’re just a good team?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, they’re a good team. A great team, you’re talking about Michael Jordan and those teams’ and they made a big deal about that. What can I do about that? For sure, they’re a good team and a great team right now because they went down two-time, back-to-back champs. As a player you look at it as anybody can be beaten, no matter what stage they’re on. This is one game and anybody can be beaten. I had all the confidence in the world in our team and us getting there.
Terwilliger: That’s kind of the media being the media. Anyone that knew Ron, I don’t think Ron would even call himself a great player. That’s just Ron being Ron: they’re good, yeah. They’re good. There was no disrespect in the way he meant it, it was just disrespectful the way it was interpreted through the media.
Lighty: That’s Ron for you, though. He’s going to tell it like it is, for him. He’s not going to sugarcoat anything. That’s what they have to do in those situations, make something out of nothing. I think he showed respect for sure, though.
Win or lose, a successful season was coming to a close.
Terwilliger: About 10 minutes before (the bus) was leaving Jamar (Butler) and I were in the hotel room watching the pregame coverage. They had the panelists there picking all the teams, and I want to say every single one of them picked Florida to win. He looked at me at one point and was like, ‘Dude, we’re getting ready to play in the national championship.’ That was the first time. I was like, ‘You know what, he’s right. I haven’t even thought about that until right now,’ which was pretty cool.
Titus: We were there all week and there’s so much going on. Every time you’re getting ready to go to practice, there’s a crowd of people in the lobby cheering you on. Sometimes the band would be in the lobby and just start playing as you’re getting on the bus. It’s awesome, but at the same time it’s like, ‘What the hell is going on right now?’
Oden: I did not think that was my last game. I really just thought about winning and being the last team on the “One Shining Moment” video. Never during the year did I think I was one-and-done. I just thought about the next game.
Lewis: I know I was really focused for me just to be prepared for this moment. This could change history for us. Just stepping on the court, it was really just a focus. No more laughter; we’re here, let’s get the job done.
Titus: That was the only game all year I didn’t warm up. I walked out, I just sat on the bench or by the scorers’ table and looked around and took it all in. I was almost like a fan that whole game, but especially before the doors were opened I had that moment of, ‘This is it.’ Not only that, but this is the biggest stage and I can’t believe that I’m in the building, but I can’t believe I’m wearing the jersey of one of the teams playing in this game. It was surreal in the moment.
The Buckeyes spent the game chasing the Gators, who took the lead for good at 13-11.
Peters: Our underneath out-of-bounds offense contributed to double-digit points for them. We turned the ball over. We couldn’t get the ball inbounds. We deflected passes and they ended up scoring off of it for pick-six opportunities. There are a number of times where you lose 50-50 balls to bad bounces. It’s another thing to lose 50-50 balls and they fall into opponents’ hands and they’re knocking down threes or they’re scoring immediately after it. That happened frequently against us.
Terwilliger: There was a play at some point where Chris Richard, he shot a jumper that went off the corner of the backboard and we’re like, ‘Wow, what a horrible shot,’ and then it bounces right to Lee Humphrey in the corner and he just drills a three. It’s like, ‘Are you kidding me?’
Lewis: All I can remember is them just being able to get to all the 50-50 balls. All the loose balls went their way for threes, for dunks, a dunk by (Al) Horford. That’s all I can remember. And we were still in the game, but it was like we weren’t in the game. It was like it was already their momentum and we were just trying to catch up.
Titus: I remember one play, Greg blocked Horford or Noah or Brewer off the glass really hard and the ball bounces out to Lee Humphrey at the three-point line and he just picks it up for a wide-open three and makes it. It’s plays like that where you were just like, ‘Oh my gosh, this team is already really good, do they really have to get all the breaks too?’
Lighty: It was hard because we could never kick the wall down, or we get through one door and there’s another barrier right in front of us. For me, I think our confidence and spirits were still high. You’ve got 3-4 NBA players on the team and guys who have been there already, you take that into account and they knew how to handle us and they were prepared for us.
Peters: It wasn’t from lack of effort. Most of it was just bad bounces, and that hurts when things you can’t control end up getting you beat.
Titus: I don’t think they were lucky, because they were better than us and to say they were lucky diminishes how great that team was. They deserved to win. The only way we probably could’ve beat them is if we had some stuff go our way, and we had literally nothing go our way the whole night.
Ohio State would shoot a crippling 4 for 23 from three-point range.
Lewis: We hadn’t come up across a team that was that fast and athletic. They were bringing, even off the bench (Marresse) Speights and another big so it was like, we hadn’t faced a team with these bigs that can move, that can be athletic and still play defense. They played great defense. I can remember one time against (Corey) Brewer, I went to the basket and he blocked my shot and he was facing the opposite direction. I was like, ‘What can I do?’
Lighty: It was just a bad time for one of those shooting nights. That’s all. The crazy thing is, it’s happened to me in my college career a few times to somebody. If we just make two more, I think for my college career we’re looking at at least three Final Fours. My senior year Will (Buford) went like 3 for 15. The year before that, (Jon) Diebler went like 2 for 12 or something.
Titus: Greg was absolutely dominant in that game (25 points and 12 rebounds). He was better than Kevin Durant when they were 18 years old. Go watch that Florida game if you don’t believe me. He’s playing with one hand against two future all-stars and he’s absolutely destroying them.
The Buckeyes trailed 40-29 at the half. They would get within 66-60 with five minutes to play, but Taurean Green hit a three-pointer to push it back to nine points. Final score: Florida 84, Ohio State 75.
Oden: Playing in the game was tough. They had so many weapons and they were everywhere. It was frustrating that we did not shoot well from three, and it hurt to walk of the floor and have all those Florida fans “Gator Chomp” us as we left. That almost made me (shed) a tear.
Lighty: One of the craziest moments in my life turned into a heartbreaking moment. Before the game they’re doing announcements and they called out the names and I’m just in awe looking up at the arena, doing a full 360 (look): We’re playing basketball in a football stadium and it’s packed. That’s something I never could’ve imagined. Then at the end, it turned into a sad moment, walking off and the confetti hitting you and it’s not your team’s colors. That’s not a good feeling.
Titus: I remember the confetti. When Michigan lost to Louisville there’s a famous picture of Trey Burke getting showered by confetti and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ve been there, man. That sucks.’ And Joakim Noah is on the scorers’ table doing the “Gator Chomp.” That was not fun.
Terwilliger: I still hate the song ‘One Shining Moment.’ I never listen to it. I always watch the beginning of the tip for the NCAA, but I never watch the lead-up to the national championship game because it always plays the song. I can remember walking off covered in orange and green and blue streamers.
Peters: I know you’re going to talk to those guys and they’ll tell you about how I cried in the locker room. I’d say that I did cry. I’ll admit it first. I cried, but I cried because you had a group of guys that you spent the last seven months with and you’ve invested so much and you’ve seen how much they’ve grown and you knew that it was going to end. What I understood was that these opportunities are few and far between and you should be thankful for everything you have because it may never come again.
Lighty: Danny had some tears. Understandable, man.
Titus: People on the outside might assume you’re crying because you just lost a national title, and that certainly plays into it, but so much of it was we had so much fun that year. I assume everyone had the same thought process that I did, which was this was a magical thing to be a part of. That was the hardest part.
Terwilliger: We went from January 9 to early April where we didn’t lose a game. Every time we stepped on the court, we expected to win. That was the norm. There was no, ‘God, I hope we can win,’ or, ‘God if we can just play really, really hard and get a couple of breaks, we’ll win.’ It was, as a team, it didn’t have to be spoken but it was known as long as we do what we’re supposed to do we will win the game. That was the first time since January that didn’t come to fruition so it was kind of a disbelief.
Lighty: I think we were just in shock. Not too much was being said at all, really. Just us embracing each other, hugs and a couple tears from some guys. Not too many words. I can’t really remember too much from that part. It was just blank after the loss.
Ohio State finished the year 35-4 overall, the most wins in single-season program history.
Peters: We weren’t tired. We weren’t worn out. We weren’t mentally defeated. We weren’t exhausted. The mental aspect didn’t wear us down. It was just fun to be around each other. It was intense. We cared. It was a sense of pride about what we did. We wanted to play well. We wanted to please coach. Those things all mattered.
Lewis: Looking back at it, I can say doing all the things and what we achieved as a team, it was a success for the program and for me to do the things I did to help the program and help myself. I was upset, but at the end of the day you can look at it as you did something special for that team.
Terwilliger: that team was the definition of a team. We didn’t have to get each other excited. We didn’t have to pump each other up. Obviously when you’re in the sand pit at 5 a.m. during the summer doing stuff you’ve got to pick guys up as they get tired, but in general that was the definition of a team. I use pieces of that experience to this day in my career. I would hope that’s how people remember it, but that’s what I take away from that team: the unspoken bond that was part of the fabric of that team.
Lighty: Even though we didn’t get the job done, I would say we’re definitely a championship team. We showed how good we were and what we could do when everyone was healthy. From the recruiting class to the excitement of all of that to actually putting everything together, people don’t realize how difficult that is. Just to reach the championship and reach the expectations everyone had for us, besides winning it all, I think we accomplished so much. Looking back on it now there’s nothing to be sad or angered about.