Authors: Mark Titus
Our second-round game was against Xavier, where Coach Matta had coached three years earlier before he decided to ditch them and come to Ohio State. Naturally, Xavier fans lost their minds over having to play their former coach and booed and heckled him the entire game for being a traitor, as if they honestly expected him to stay at a program that had had one Sweet Sixteen appearance before he got there, paid him less than half of what he now makes at Ohio State, and had no ties to him until he coached there for three years. Still, the history surrounding Coach Matta gave the game an “upset in the making” feel to it. Simply put, Xavier wanted to beat us, and they wanted to beat us badly.
And for the first 37 minutes, it showed. They had total control over the game and took a nine-point lead into the final three minutes thanks to their big guys being able to step out and knock down threes on a consistent basis, which is really a necessity for
any mid-major team trying to pull off an upset. But heading into the final media time-out, we decided that it would probably be better for our National Championship hopes if we won the game instead of letting Xavier continue to outplay us.
We turned up our intensity and cut the lead to just one with a minute and a half still left to play, but try as we might, we couldn’t get over the hump and take the lead, or even tie the game for that matter. When Jamar’s attempt to put us ahead with 18 seconds left went begging, and Dave’s shot after he grabbed the offensive rebound also missed, things looked bleak. (I distinctly remember sitting on the bench trying to figure out where I was going to go for spring break the next week since I figured we wouldn’t be playing in the tournament anymore.)
Xavier secured the rebound after Dave’s miss, and Greg fouled the guy who had the ball with only nine seconds left to play and us still down by two. Xavier only needed to make two free throws to ice the game and send us back to Columbus with our tail between our legs. But they only made the first one, leaving the door open for one last desperation shot to send the game to overtime. Ivan secured the rebound after the second free throw and gave it to Mike, who then dribbled up the court with the clock winding down to under five seconds and … wait, why am I telling you this? You already know what happened. And if you don’t, shame on you.
(All right, I guess that was cold of me to leave those of you who don’t know what happened hanging, and to strip Ron Lewis of his moment of glory that comes with being mentioned in my book. If you must know, Mike handed the ball off to Ron, who then made what has to be the biggest shot in Ohio State basketball history by hitting a deep three with a hand in his face that sent the game to overtime. From there, Mike took over by scoring 11 points in OT, and we won by seven. In case you are undecided about whether or not you should look up Ron’s shot on YouTube, I feel obligated to mention that Gus Johnson called the game. So yeah, put the book down and go watch the video if you haven’t seen it before.)
Beating Xavier earned us a trip to the Sweet Sixteen in San Antonio, where our first game was a rematch with Tennessee. My first priority upon arrival was obviously to find Pee-wee’s bike in the basement of the Alamo, but I had no luck and gave up after an hour of looking for a basement that I’m not even sure exists. Anyway, when I eventually checked into our hotel on the River Walk, I realized that this road trip would be my favorite of the year. That’s because when I walked into my room I saw a door toward the back that was cracked open, decided to take a peek behind it, and was greeted by the “El Gobernador” suite on the other side, which in Spanish means “the most badass hotel room I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Apparently the maid forgot to lock the door leading to the suite, which meant Danny and I had access to a full kitchen, a dining room, a living room, a walkout balcony that overlooked the River Walk, and another bathroom to go along with the standard room we originally had. In other words—and this is what’s really important here—I didn’t have to room with Danny anymore. It goes without saying that I left our original room for Danny and took over the suite for the week (I slept on the pullout couch in the living room). And even though every time that I left the room I had to figure out a way to disguise from the maid that the door to the suite was unlocked, it was completely worth it because I could order porn off the hotel TV for free since the hotel management was under the impression the suite was empty and therefore wouldn’t know who to charge had an awesome view from the walkout balcony.
Our game against Tennessee was the second of a doubleheader at the Alamodome, with the first game being a matchup between Memphis and Texas A&M. (The winner of our game was to play the winner of that game to go to the Final Four.) We got to the arena about an hour before we could even take the floor for warm-ups, but because Coach Matta wanted us to focus on Tennessee and not look ahead to who we would play in the next game, we hung out in the locker room for that time instead of sitting in the stands
to watch the other game. At some point while we were waiting, Coach Matta and Ivan had to use the restroom at the same time and ended up peeing next to each other in adjacent urinals.
According to Coach Matta, while they were peeing, the 25,000+ people in the arena burst into a furious roar that shook our locker room, presumably because Texas A&M made a good play. (Since we played in San Antonio, there were more A&M fans there than the other three teams’ fans combined.) As the story goes, when Ivan heard the thunderous cheers, he turned to Coach Matta and asked, “What’s going on out there?” to which Coach Matta replied, “I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s a high school wrestling match or something.” Ivan responded with, “Oh, that’s cool,” finished his business, and walked away without giving even half a thought to how ridiculous it would be for a Sweet Sixteen NCAA Tournament game to be held up by a high school wrestling match, let alone that there would be that many fans going crazy over high school wrestling. But as much as I like to make fun of Ivan, I have to give him credit on this one—he took Coach Matta’s words to heart and avoided looking ahead to our next game, even if it was because he was the perfect combination of oblivious and just plain dumb.
Right from the start, Tennessee came out of the gates like a bat out of hell and we came out like Rex Ryan trying to get up off the toilet. They jumped all over us and had a comfortable lead that ballooned to as many as 20 points before dipping down to 17 by halftime. Strangely, nobody on the team (except me) was really that discouraged when we got to the locker room during the break, probably because Ron’s heroics the game before proved that a comeback was entirely plausible. Still, even with Ron’s shot fresh in our minds, there seemed to be a weird confidence in the locker room that was largely unwarranted since, ya know, we had just gotten blown out for the first 20 minutes of the game.
It almost felt like the guys who actually played all got together before the game and decided they’d suck in the first half just for the hell of it and see if they could pull off a comeback in the second
half. Now that it was halftime they all had that “everything is going according to plan” look on their faces, while I sat in the back of the locker room scratching my head as to what exactly that plan was and whether or not they knew we were up against a seemingly insurmountable lead. But they apparently knew what they were doing because we came out in the second half with fire in our eyes and murder on our minds. In just a little over 10 minutes, we erased their entire 17-point halftime lead and tied the game, prompting Coach Matta to give his famous “Their assholes are tight!” speech during a time-out, which is a speech that he always gives when we have a team against the ropes and basically just consists of him yelling “Their assholes are tight!” over and over.
As it turned out, Coach Matta’s speech may have been a little premature because Tennessee’s assholes, in fact, weren’t
tight. They gathered their composure and had an answer for just about everything we threw at them for the last eight minutes. But with the game tied and six seconds left on the clock, Mike went for the jugular as he took the ball to the hole and drew a foul to put him on the free throw line to all but win the game. He made the first free throw but missed the second, giving Tennessee one last chance.
Tennessee’s Ramar Smith secured the rebound and raced down the court, and Bruce Pearl chose to play out the final seconds instead of calling time-out to draw a play up. With Mike on his hip most of the way, Smith took the ball the length of the court and threw up a layup as the buzzer sounded—only to have Greg fly out of nowhere and send his shot into the bleachers. And with that, we completed one of the best comebacks in tournament history and set the record for the biggest halftime deficit overcome to win an NCAA Tournament game in regulation time.
As entertaining as the second half was, the best part of the game came just after Greg’s block, when everyone on our bench stormed the court in celebration and I ran straight to Greg and gave him a bear hug (I was probably just trying to get on TV). He wanted no part of it, though, and made me look like the world’s
biggest doucher by disregarding me like I was a condom and he was Shawn Kemp. I know I just asked you to look up Ron’s shot against Xavier on YouTube, but I’m now
that you put the book down to find and watch the video of my fat face and terrible haircut giving Greg a hug. Those few seconds of hilarity are a perfect representation of every walk-on–star player relationship ever and provide a rare glimpse of my douchey early days as a walk-on before I stopped caring altogether and became unfathomably lazy.
Our second thrilling win over Tennessee of the season gave us the right to play Memphis—who also happened to win their game in exciting fashion—for a trip to the Final Four. Leading up to the game, Memphis’s center and dumb-ass extraordinaire, Joey Dorsey, told the media that he had been looking forward to playing against Greg for a while because Greg was “overrated” and “might be as good as Joey Dorsey.” Sadly, neither of those quotes claimed the title as the dumbest thing he said before the game. That’s because he also went on to say, “It’s going to be David and Goliath. I’m Goliath. He’s the little man. I’m going to outwork him to every ball. I think I’m going to have like a 20-rebound night.” Yes, you read that right, and yes, that is a direct quote.
Never mind the fact that Dorsey had the audacity to call out a First Team All-American and make it seem as though Greg should be honored to be in the same sentence as him. No, the real genius lay in the fact that he chose to label himself as Goliath in his analogy, proving that either he had never actually read the story of David and Goliath or he was too dumb to see the irony in identifying with a giant whose overconfidence and perceived sense of invincibility ultimately led to his demise. As you might have guessed, Dorsey’s prediction turned out to be halfway correct. Sure he completely whiffed on predicting that he’d grab 20 rebounds and get to every loose ball, but his David and Goliath analysis was spot-on. When it was all said and done, Joey “Goliath” Dorsey finished the game with more fouls (four) than points, rebounds, assists, blocked shots, steals, and IQ points combined (three rebounds, zero of everything
else). Meanwhile, Greg “David” Oden put his handful of stones and his slingshot to good use by leading us to a 16-point victory with 17 points and 9 rebounds, and in doing so helped us earn the first Final Four trip for Ohio State since 1999 1968. (Coincidentally, “a handful of stones and a slingshot” is just one of the many nicknames Greg used to have for his genitals.)
f I had to describe the Final Four in only thirteen words, this is what I’d say: it’s essentially just a weeklong circus with a few basketball games thrown in. We arrived in Atlanta four or five days before our first game against Georgetown because there were all sorts of practices, banquets, meetings, and media commitments we had to tend to before the game. But even though all of the hoopla got annoying pretty quickly, I never got sick of the media sessions held in our locker room every day before and after our practices.
Since I was a freshman walk-on and was therefore entirely unknown, nobody in the media ever wanted to interview me, which is to say that I had nothing but free time during these sessions. And it goes without saying that I used this free time to do everything in my power to distract my teammates as they were getting interviewed. The way I saw it, no teammate and no method of distraction was off-limits.
My favorite move was to stand behind the interviewer and violently thrust my hips with a goofy look on my face (think of Ace
Ventura in front of all the cops after he solved the Roger Podacter murder case), but every now and then I’d throw in a Happy Gilmore “riding the bull” dance just to mix things up. When reporters would swarm around Greg and shove their tape recorders in his face, I’d grab my cell phone, join the cluster, and make it my goal to see if I could get close enough to actually have my phone touch Greg’s face.
The crowning achievement of my interview-distracting career was no doubt when I stood behind a guy interviewing Ivan on TV and tried to show Ivan that he had a booger hanging out of his nose. This went on for a few minutes until Ivan eventually saw me out of the corner of his eye and said to the interviewer, “We’re just going to go out and play our game and … hold up—do I have a booger in my nose? Hang on a sec. I gotta go to the bathroom real quick and take care of this.”
It may seem like I was an ass for distracting my teammates, but the truth is that everyone on the team pulled pranks on one another all throughout the year, so by the time the Final Four came around, doing things like distracting teammates during interviews was pretty common among our team. Besides, I got my fair share of pranks pulled on me, it’s just that I’m purposely choosing not to write about them because I refuse to give my teammates the satisfaction of knowing their prank on me was successful. Anyway, the point is that it was all good-natured because we were an extremely close-knit group of guys who genuinely loved being around one another, which is something that can’t be said about other Ohio State teams I was on (more on this in later chapters). This camaraderie wasn’t limited to just the players, though, as many of our coaches also felt a strong bond with our team and weren’t afraid to have some fun with us.