Building the Foundation: Ohio State closes 2005-06 nonconference with big LSU win
Editor's note: It has been 15 years since a battle-hardened Ohio State team that was short on bodies but long on experience made a run to an outright 2006 Big Ten championship. Behind a senior quartet of Terence Dials, Je’Kel Foster, J.J. Sullinger and Matt Sylvester, and featuring significant contributions from the likes of Jamar Butler, Ivan Harris, Ron Lewis and Matt Terwilliger, the Buckeyes would compile a 26-6 record and earn their first outright league title in 14 years.
To commemorate that season, The Dispatch is launching a season-long feature. Key periods or games will be recalled in online-only oral histories, allowing members of that 2005-06 Ohio State men’s basketball team to take you through the year as they saw it unfold.
Building The Foundation: Part 1:The 2005-06 Ohio State team gets started
Building The Foundation: Part 2:The 2005-06 Buckeyes open the season on a winning streak
In this third installment, the Buckeyes returned from their win against Iowa State unbeaten in seven games, riding a lot of confidence and on the cusp of something that hadn’t been done in four years. When the Associated Press top 25 poll was released for week seven, Ohio State appeared at No. 24.
Did the players take notice?
Terence Dials, senior center: Absolutely. I’d be lying to you if I said it didn’t. It might not have meant much to coaches because they’ve been there before and they know the main goal, but the players, absolutely you want to see your name in the top 25. It actually took us a long time to get there because I don’t think the writers believed in us the first seven or eight games.
Matt Sylvester, senior forward: It was huge. That was validation that all this hard work and believing in his new coach and figuring it out and putting it together (was working). We were really proud of that, without question.
James “J.J.” Sullinger, senior guard/forward: It was very meaningful, but coach told us real quick that could change in a second if we don’t do what we need to do. That was my first time being ranked.
Thad Matta, coach: It was kind of eye-opening, and I think it motivated those guys because never in anybody’s wild imagination with where the program was when we got there that that was something that was going to be possible in year two. I remember seeing that and, “God, good for these guys.’ They wanted to honor it and protect it and did a heck of a job.
Following the win against the Cyclones, the Buckeyes had home games against Tennessee State and Gardner Webb. The latter was a blowout and provided a staple of game film Matta would show to his future teams.
Matta: There was a play in that Gardner-Webb game that I showed for years to teams of (Jamar Butler’s) toughness where he back-tipped a ball and dove on it and flipped it up to Ron. It was a toughness thing we’d always show our guys. He was very quiet, but man did he have an element of toughness to him that was just awesome that he brought to the table.
One final test remained before Ohio State flipped the calendar to Big Ten play. Now up to No. 21 in the nation, the Buckeyes would host a loaded LSU that had beaten Ohio State, 113-101, the previous year in double overtime on its home court. Now the Tigers, led by Glen “Big Baby” Davis, were coming to Value City Arena.
Sullinger: What sticks out the most is they got us the year before. We felt like we shouldn’t have lost that game. It was a close one. Brandon Bass, he destroyed us in the second half. We knew that they had some really good guys, but we wanted to get this one back. We felt like it was a revenge game. It was one of those games we had marked on the calendar.
Dials: I remember coach (Alan) Major had that scout, so he’s going over the scout and we’re watching video and their video was grainy. You could barely see the other teams.
Sylvester: We put a lot in because we knew they were really good. You could see it in preparing for them.
Dials: It was a challenge for me because they had Big Baby, who was an NBA prospect. Those challenges, I looked forward to. Those are the games I got up for. I could hardly sleep at night for them.
Collectively, the Buckeyes had been shooting the ball well. Sylvester, though, entered the game with only four made three-pointers on 16 attempts (25.0%) for the season.
Sylvester: Thad was a big believer in getting up a ton of shots. It was something he would preach to us all the time, that we are shooting the ball more than any other team in the country. Now, whether that was true or not, I don’t know. Building a team requires so much that sometimes shooting can be overlooked and with Thad, it never was.
Matta: I liked having Matt on the floor because of his basketball IQ. He had a great feel, great understanding of how to play. I can remember seeing him struggling and he had a temperament too, now. He would get very fiery when he couldn’t make shots and I remember trying to calm him down. I think we did a good job of really assuring him that, ‘It’s going to be OK, you’re going to make shots.’
Dials: He was one of my favorite teammates because he was one of the few who could give me the ball where I needed to in the right place for me to score. He was a very underrated player. On the IQ side of basketball, he was at an elite level.
His production would be needed against an LSU team that would go on to reach the Final Four.
Dials: Tyrus Thomas was averaging 8 or 9 blocks a game. I remember saying to coach Major, ‘They ain’t played anybody yet, it’ll be fine. This dude ain’t all that. I remember the first couple shots of the game he sent to the first or second row. I was like, ‘OK, he’s pretty serious. Dude has some athletic ability.’
Matta: That’s the one where Jamar (Butler) drove in and that guy, Tyrus Thompson, he blocked his shot into about the eighth row and it was a deadball timeout. I’ll never forget Jamar walks over into the huddle and (assistant coach John) Groce goes, ‘Jamar, shot-fake!’ He goes, ‘(Expletive), I ain’t even see that (expletive)!’ It was one of the greatest blocks I’d ever seen.
Sullinger: When you thought you were open, I know he got Jamar Butler’s shot one time something crazy and I think he might’ve gotten me too. He stole the ball from me twice. He was just so athletic, man.
Lewis: That was one of the most exciting games, one of the most intense games and athletic games that we played in. It was one of those games where I really think if we win this game, we can go into the Big Ten with a mind-set and knowing physically that we can beat anybody and do the things we need to do to win.
Dials: I loved that matchup (with Davis). It was fun for the day. I can say that I played against a couple NBA guys and got the best of them.
It would come down to a Sylvester three-pointer in the corner, one he hit with six seconds left for a 78-76 win. Dials led the way with 24 points while Sylvester was 3 for 5 from three for 14 points in the win.
Sylvester: I’ll never forget, the first one rattled in. Hit every part of the rim and fell, but it went in and that kind of got me going.
Matta: We were going to Je’Kel and they played the play right and he flipped it to Matt in the corner and he hit the shot there.
Like all good stories, Sylvester had the benefit of some help from an outside source.
Sylvester: I took a badminton class and there was a kid in the class named Josh that I became close with. Really good guy. I’ll never forget one day in class he said, ‘Hey man, I know how you get out of this shooting slump.’ I thought, ‘Oh God, man, here we go.’ He just goes, ‘I have these lucky beads.’
Sullinger: He’s told me the same story. I can’t contest it, but I can’t verify it, either. Syl, he’s done some unorthodox things in his time, so I wouldn’t put it past him.
Sylvester: Quite literally as we were coming out of the tunnel there’s Josh standing right there waving those beads. I grabbed them, jammed them in my sock and ended up hitting a couple threes in that game including the big one at the end, so I still thank Josh for getting me out of that shooting slump.
Dials: I don’t remember. His locker was literally next to mine, so for five years we shared space but I don’t remember the beads in the sock. He just has a knack for hitting big shots.
Sylvester: I played a portion of that game for sure with those beads tucked into my sock. I can see the skepticism, but it really did happen.
Matta: Unequivocally, no question about it, (it happened). I don’t remember that, but there’s no doubt in my mind he would do that. That’s him to a T, yes.
Lewis: I think I do remember that. He didn’t say anything before the game, but after I think he did say something in the locker room about that.
Sylvester’s shot ensured a happy New Year for the Buckeyes, who would take a 10-0 record into the start of Big Ten play. It all hit Matta in the hours after the LSU game, that something special might be brewing.
Matta: I remember after the LSU game, I came home and my wife had, like, 10-0 up on the wall. Maybe my kids did it, I don’t know, but that was the first time it dawned on me: Hey, we’re undefeated going into the New Year. I still remember that, going home, it said 10-0 and I’m like, ‘Holy (expletive), we’re 10-0.’