Seniors Revel In Outright Big Ten Title

OSU coach Thad Matta credits his four seniors -- Terence Dials, Je'Kel Foster, Matt Sylvester and J.J. Sullinger -- for leading the Buckeyes to an outright Big Ten championship. The seniors each talked about the long road to Sunday's crowning achievement.

Ohio State's improbable Big Ten championship run was complete and it was nearing the end of what was certainly a scarlet-lettered day for the Buckeyes.

OSU senior captain J.J. Sullinger summed it up.

"It's a good day to be a Buckeye and a better day to be a senior," Sullinger said as Sunday's postgame press conference was winding down and the regular season finale against Purdue, a 76-57 win that gave OSU an outright conference championship, was complete.

Sullinger and his fellow seniors, Terence Dials, Je'Kel Foster and Matt Sylvester, were introduced to the crowd prior to the game.

The Buckeyes then dominated the second half against the Boilermakers and cruised to the victory. OSU coach Thad Matta removed all four seniors to a standing ovation with 1:33 left.

Then, following the final buzzer, Matta was given the house microphone.

"You guys are the best," he said to the sellout crowd of 18,500. "It was June of last year and we were finishing our conditioning drills. We were running around the top of the building and I told the guys if they take care of their business, when the season ends every seat in this house is going to be filled.

"They have gone the old fashioned route. I give them a lot of credit for their dedication and hard work and their commitment to The Ohio State University and this team.

"I asked these guys to help us lay the foundation of the program. It looks pretty damned good to me right now."

The team then convened at center court to accept the Big Ten championship trophy. The team then cut the nets on the season's west end as the crowd roared its approval. The band played "Hang On Sloopy" and "Fight The Team."

Finally, the team headed to the locker room as the PA blared Queen's "We Are The Champions."

It was a long strange ride, indeed, for all of OSU's seniors.

Dials and Sylvester each arrived at OSU in the fall of 2001, intent to play for coach Jim O'Brien. But back problems made Sylvester's freshman season a wash and he was redshirted.

Dials was a member of OSU's 2001-02 Big Ten regular season and tournament championship team, playing as a reserve off the bench.

A year later, Sullinger, a native of nearby Worthington, transferred into the program from Arkansas.

He sat out the 2002-03 season, when Dials was lost to a back injury and the team struggled just to make the NIT.

The following season was even worse as the Buckeyes stumbled to 14-16 and missed the postseason altogether. But that was just a precursor for the following summer, when O'Brien was dismissed from the university after admitting he had made a cash payment to a former recruit.

Matta stepped into the opening in July 2004, and has not stopped running ever since. With Foster, a junior college transfer, in the fold last season, the Buckeyes went 20-12 and toppled top-ranked Illinois in their regular season finale. That win took some of the sting out of the school's decision to self impose a one-year postseason ban in connection with O'Brien's transgressions.

That set the stage for this season, when the veteran-laden Buckeyes have lost just four games – by a combined 15 points – and nailed down the school's 18th conference title overall and first outright crown since 1992.

Upon his hiring, Matta talked about a five-year plan. But with talk that OSU could, in fact, be a one seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, it appears his rebuilding plan is ahead of schedule.

"We'll were a little bit ahead of where we thought we would be coming in here," Matta said in the understatement of the year. "We came in here and didn't know anything about the guys or whether they shot right-handed or left-handed. We didn't even know their names – I struggled with Je'Kel early on.

"But I think for these guys, this was a great lesson in life. If you commit to something and stay the course, anything is possible. To be the outright champions and to take care of business the way they did, that was a tribute to their effort."

Matta deflected the praise toward his four seniors.

"I don't think you can ever replace experience and having four seniors like these guys," he said. "I called them in in September and told them they were all going to be captains and that there would be a lot of responsibility to go with it. They needed to be leaders through the good and the bad. They have been there every second.

"I owe these guys my life. People say, ‘It was good old Coach.' But these guys have done it all. They deserve everything.

"I watched them grow as people, not even in terms of basketball. I watched them come together as men. Terence was the designated leader and he didn't even know why. These guys all bought into what we were preaching."

Dials was asked to sum up the day's events.

"This is just a joyous moment right now, especially after all of the things this program has been through," he said. "To be back on top of the Big Ten is a special moment. It says a lot for the dedication of all the players and coaches. It's just a happy moment."

Foster's favorite moment?

"I would just say seeing the smile on Coach Matta's face," he said.

Sylvester has had back problems of his own this season, limiting his playing time and effectiveness. He even took a painkilling epidural injection of cortisone recently to help with the pain.

"Since I've had that procedure done, I have been feeling better every single day," he said. "I would probably call it 85 percent."

Of course, it was roughly one year ago when Sylvester's three-point shot sank Illinois. He was asked to compare today's win with that landmark victory.

"Obviously, the game last year was a different type of game than this one was," Sylvester said. "I would trade that game to get this trophy, I know that. Both games were great, but I feel great about winning this trophy and the league."

Looking Ahead

Matta was asked if he felt his team had turned the corner.

"No, I don't think we've turned it yet," he said with a smile.

Two years ago, Matta led Xavier on a magical tournament run through the Atlantic 10 tournament and all the way to the Elite Eight of the NCAA. He was asked if this team was ready to make a deep tournament run of its own.

"Ask me tomorrow morning," Matta said. "I want to enjoy this. I told them this was the completion of our second season. The first one was the nonconference and they were undefeated. They did an incredible job with that. The second was this Big Ten championship. Now we have to take a deep breath and not lose sight of our focus.

"(The Big Ten tournament) will be a three-day tournament and it will be all about getting on a run. You just have to go in with the guns blazing and play on a roll. Those are the teams that are successful at this time of year."

Looking beyond next weekend's fun-filled trip to Indianapolis, Sullinger believes OSU could make a few waves in the NCAA.

"We've kind of flown under the radar up to this point," he said. "I think you've got to mention Ohio State when you think about the contenders (for the national title). But we can't concern ourselves with that. We just have to get better every day and get ready for the Big Ten tournament. That is our main concern and main focus now."

We will preview next weekend's Big Ten tournament on Monday.


 

 



Buckeye Sports Top Stories

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","mobileBody":"Ohio State's improbable Big Ten championship run was complete and it was nearing the end of what was certainly a scarlet-lettered day for the Buckeyes.

OSU senior captain J.J. Sullinger summed it up.

\"It's a good day to be a Buckeye and a better day to be a senior,\" Sullinger said as Sunday's postgame press conference was winding down and the regular season finale against Purdue, a 76-57 win that gave OSU an outright conference championship, was complete.

Sullinger and his fellow seniors, Terence Dials, Je'Kel Foster and Matt Sylvester, were introduced to the crowd prior to the game.

The Buckeyes then dominated the second half against the Boilermakers and cruised to the victory. OSU coach Thad Matta removed all four seniors to a standing ovation with 1:33 left.

Then, following the final buzzer, Matta was given the house microphone.

\"You guys are the best,\" he said to the sellout crowd of 18,500. \"It was June of last year and we were finishing our conditioning drills. We were running around the top of the building and I told the guys if they take care of their business, when the season ends every seat in this house is going to be filled.

\"They have gone the old fashioned route. I give them a lot of credit for their dedication and hard work and their commitment to The Ohio State University and this team.

\"I asked these guys to help us lay the foundation of the program. It looks pretty damned good to me right now.\"

The team then convened at center court to accept the Big Ten championship trophy. The team then cut the nets on the season's west end as the crowd roared its approval. The band played \"Hang On Sloopy\" and \"Fight The Team.\"

Finally, the team headed to the locker room as the PA blared Queen's \"We Are The Champions.\"

It was a long strange ride, indeed, for all of OSU's seniors.

Dials and Sylvester each arrived at OSU in the fall of 2001, intent to play for coach Jim O'Brien. But back problems made Sylvester's freshman season a wash and he was redshirted.

Dials was a member of OSU's 2001-02 Big Ten regular season and tournament championship team, playing as a reserve off the bench.

A year later, Sullinger, a native of nearby Worthington, transferred into the program from Arkansas.

He sat out the 2002-03 season, when Dials was lost to a back injury and the team struggled just to make the NIT.

The following season was even worse as the Buckeyes stumbled to 14-16 and missed the postseason altogether. But that was just a precursor for the following summer, when O'Brien was dismissed from the university after admitting he had made a cash payment to a former recruit.

Matta stepped into the opening in July 2004, and has not stopped running ever since. With Foster, a junior college transfer, in the fold last season, the Buckeyes went 20-12 and toppled top-ranked Illinois in their regular season finale. That win took some of the sting out of the school's decision to self impose a one-year postseason ban in connection with O'Brien's transgressions.

That set the stage for this season, when the veteran-laden Buckeyes have lost just four games – by a combined 15 points – and nailed down the school's 18th conference title overall and first outright crown since 1992.

Upon his hiring, Matta talked about a five-year plan. But with talk that OSU could, in fact, be a one seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, it appears his rebuilding plan is ahead of schedule.

\"We'll were a little bit ahead of where we thought we would be coming in here,\" Matta said in the understatement of the year. \"We came in here and didn't know anything about the guys or whether they shot right-handed or left-handed. We didn't even know their names – I struggled with Je'Kel early on.

\"But I think for these guys, this was a great lesson in life. If you commit to something and stay the course, anything is possible. To be the outright champions and to take care of business the way they did, that was a tribute to their effort.\"

Matta deflected the praise toward his four seniors.

\"I don't think you can ever replace experience and having four seniors like these guys,\" he said. \"I called them in in September and told them they were all going to be captains and that there would be a lot of responsibility to go with it. They needed to be leaders through the good and the bad. They have been there every second.

\"I owe these guys my life. People say, ‘It was good old Coach.' But these guys have done it all. They deserve everything.

\"I watched them grow as people, not even in terms of basketball. I watched them come together as men. Terence was the designated leader and he didn't even know why. These guys all bought into what we were preaching.\"

Dials was asked to sum up the day's events.

\"This is just a joyous moment right now, especially after all of the things this program has been through,\" he said. \"To be back on top of the Big Ten is a special moment. It says a lot for the dedication of all the players and coaches. It's just a happy moment.\"

Foster's favorite moment?

\"I would just say seeing the smile on Coach Matta's face,\" he said.

Sylvester has had back problems of his own this season, limiting his playing time and effectiveness. He even took a painkilling epidural injection of cortisone recently to help with the pain.

\"Since I've had that procedure done, I have been feeling better every single day,\" he said. \"I would probably call it 85 percent.\"

Of course, it was roughly one year ago when Sylvester's three-point shot sank Illinois. He was asked to compare today's win with that landmark victory.

\"Obviously, the game last year was a different type of game than this one was,\" Sylvester said. \"I would trade that game to get this trophy, I know that. Both games were great, but I feel great about winning this trophy and the league.\"

Matta was asked if he felt his team had turned the corner.

\"No, I don't think we've turned it yet,\" he said with a smile.

Two years ago, Matta led Xavier on a magical tournament run through the Atlantic 10 tournament and all the way to the Elite Eight of the NCAA. He was asked if this team was ready to make a deep tournament run of its own.

\"Ask me tomorrow morning,\" Matta said. \"I want to enjoy this. I told them this was the completion of our second season. The first one was the nonconference and they were undefeated. They did an incredible job with that. The second was this Big Ten championship. Now we have to take a deep breath and not lose sight of our focus.

\"(The Big Ten tournament) will be a three-day tournament and it will be all about getting on a run. You just have to go in with the guns blazing and play on a roll. Those are the teams that are successful at this time of year.\"

Looking beyond next weekend's fun-filled trip to Indianapolis, Sullinger believes OSU could make a few waves in the NCAA.

\"We've kind of flown under the radar up to this point,\" he said. \"I think you've got to mention Ohio State when you think about the contenders (for the national title). But we can't concern ourselves with that. We just have to get better every day and get ready for the Big Ten tournament. That is our main concern and main focus now.\"

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