Building the Foundation: 2005-06 Buckeyes weather early Big Ten adversity
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. In this installment of the series, the ranked Buckeyes take their best start in 15 years into a Jan. 7 road game against their first ranked foe of the season: No. 16 Indiana.
Terence Dials, senior center: I looked forward to the big games, and playing in the Big Ten, probably 90% of your games are going to be big games. I always looked forward to those games, and particularly Indiana because they had a kid named Marco Killingsworth who was (ranked) a top-50 guy.
Jamar Butler, sophomore guard: We went out and it was so loud the floor was rumbling. We had to write down on the board what play we were running because we couldn’t hear. Right from the jump, Marco Killingsworth was running his mouth trying to psyche you out.
Killingsworth wasn’t the only one chatting.
Previous installment:Building the Foundation: Ohio State closes 2005-06 nonconference with big LSU win
Matt Sylvester, senior forward: It’s so loud it’s almost white noise. Your brain shakes and your chest is reverberating. I’ll never forget (guard) Robert Vaden looked right at me, right in the eyes. We’re standing right next to each other and he goes, “You’re scared, aren’t you, you little (expletive)?”
The Buckeyes would lead by as much as 38-21 in the first half as Dials feasted. He would eventually finish with 25 points but was limited by foul trouble as Indiana rallied in the second half.
J.J. Sullinger, senior guard/forward: I was our next line of defense as a big, and I was not a big man. I remember every time Terence getting into foul trouble, us just not having the inside presence that we would have with him on the floor.
Dials: It was disappointing because I consider myself a smarter player than that. I didn’t adjust as well as I should have and it probably cost our team the game because that’s kind of how we lost, me fouling out with a couple seconds to go.
Coach Thad Matta: At the end of the game (Dials) ran over — I can’t remember the kid’s name (Marshall Strickland) — and they called a foul on him running through a screen and the guy made the free throws. It was unbelievable.
The game held personal significance for Sylvester. His father, Mike, played professionally for 17 years in Italy and in a 1985 game was involved in a brawl in which he was punched by Mike Davis, who by 2006 was Indiana’s coach.
Sylvester: Mike Davis sucker-punched my dad and it led to one of the biggest fights in European basketball history. So I always had this thing in the back of my mind that, “Hey man, that guy punched my dad in the face.”
The Buckeyes would respond to the 81-79 loss at Indiana with a 16-point win at Purdue before returning home for a 62-59 double-overtime loss to No. 14 Michigan State on Jan. 15.
Butler: That’s one game me and Je’Kel Foster had a personal conversation about. We wanted them bad. We couldn’t wait for them to get to Columbus, because my freshman year they swept us.
Dials: I remember that game being kind of ugly from the start.
It was ugly at the end, too, as the teams combined for only four points, all by Ohio State, in the final 7½ minutes of regulation.
Sullinger: That game haunts me to this day because I had a timely turnover in one of the overtimes and I missed a three-point shot that started the break for them to get them back in the game. That game stands out as one that we absolutely should have had.
Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Daequan Cook, David Lighty and Kosta Koufos all watched the game on recruiting visits.
Dials: We didn’t really have too much interaction with them. I didn’t personally recognize the guys as them being there or remembering them there at all. That was never a point for me.
Sullinger: I remember them being there and them thinking, “Man, we want to come here.” I remember them saying how exciting it was, the atmosphere and things like that.
After the loss to the Spartans, Ohio State recorded double-digit victories over No. 15 Wisconsin and then Penn State. But a Jan. 28 loss at Iowa left the Buckeyes with a 14-3 overall record, 4-3 in the Big Ten. After an 11-0 start, had they peaked too soon?
Butler: We never got content with where we were at. You talk about some hard practices and battles, there were times there were almost fistfights. That’s what it takes sometimes to get a team to be close. It was a fun journey.
Dials: We had three losses by (a total of) 10 points. (Matta) was like, “Hey, we’re right there. The ball bounced our way one or twice different, then we win those games.”
The road win against Penn State came with Sylvester ailing. What were described as back spasms kept him from starting against the Nittany Lions.
Sylvester: I basically had a full-blown herniated disc the whole second half of that year. Right after the season, I ended up having surgery. I got to the point where I wasn’t able to practice a couple of days a week. It was mentally draining because back issues are just so debilitating. Every morning you wake up and they’re there.
Sullinger: I think that was another testament to this team, we had the next-guy approach and Ron (Lewis) came in and did what he did. Anytime you have a Ron Lewis coming off the bench, you’re in pretty good shape.
Sylvester: It was a complete and total pain in the butt. When we went on the road, our poor trainer Vince O’Brien had to bring all this extra equipment and we were trying this laser therapy and all this crazy stuff.
Sweeping Penn State provided personal satisfaction for Sullinger, a Thomas Worthington graduate who got the best of his friend Jamelle Cornley, a Brookhaven graduate and Nittany Lions freshman.
Sullinger: One thing I learned real quickly about ’Mel was I was not “Big Bro” on the court and he let me know rather quickly. It was fun going up against a familiar face, but it was even more fun going up against an ultra-competitive player like Jamelle Cornley.
Ohio State also was a team that had fun with each other. At center stage was Sullinger, who spent the season wearing full-length tights. He told reporters at the time that the ice underneath the court at Value City Arena made his legs cold.
Sullinger: Yeah, I might’ve made that up. I think that was just my excuse for wearing them, maybe. They outlawed those tights immediately after that season.
Sylvester: J.J. always had that little bit of extra flair and it was just kind of J.J. If you make fun of him and go after him on something, he likes it even more because he liked that attention. And we liked making fun of him. It was part of our team chemistry.
Butler: I used to tell him he looked cute before we went out. Coach Matta didn’t like it too much because he didn’t like the flashiness, which is why he wouldn’t let us wear the headbands and armbands and any of that stuff.