Buckeyes Prove You Can Go Home Again

Former postseason successes by the Ohio State men's basketball team are denoted by a string of banners that run through the rafters of St. John Arena. Monday night, the Buckeyes will get a chance to add to those when they face Cal in the NIT in the 52-year-old building, a place in which the Buckeyes are comfortable playing.

When the Ohio State men's basketball program made the move across the Olentangy River from St. John Arena to Value City Arena after the 1998 season, the single-season banners commemorating past cager successes stayed in the rafters of St. John.

Thus, in the southeast corner of the now 52-year-old building, one large banner still stands out among a string of the similar scarlet fabrics. This one, with white lettering standing out from the red background and a gray block "O" in the corner, reads "NCAA Champions 1960."

To win that title, Ohio State had to defeat California in the finals, doing so by a 75-55 margin in San Francisco. So there's at least some measure of symmetry that the Buckeyes second-round NIT game Monday night against the Golden Bears, moved out of VCA because of a Bruce Springsteen concert, will come in the building in which Jerry Lucas, Bob Havlicek, Bobby Knight and the rest suited up.

Though he was not born until 1967, Matta immediately had a response when asked the significance of the last time the Buckeyes met Cal.

"National championship, 1960," the fourth-year coach replied. "I know my history. I remember there was a reserve named Knight. Obviously, I wasn't around, but that is unique that you have that opportunity."

The trivia wasn't quite as easy for some of Matta's charges, however. Freshman Jon Diebler admitted he didn't know that OSU had defeated Cal for the title in 1960, while senior forward Othello Hunter replied "I assume we won," when asked of the significance of the last win over the Bears. When told that it was for the national championship, Hunter's eyes widened and he responded, "Ohhh. I didn't know that."

As it turns out, even the younger Buckeyes are familiar with the historic building that now hosts Ohio State volleyball, gymnastics and wrestling. Because of the state high school wrestling, girls and boys basketball championships, the team has been practicing in St. John for most of the last three weeks.

When it comes to actually suiting up for a game in the venue, the Buckeyes have practice at that, too. Seniors Matt Terwilliger and Butler were freshmen in November 2004 when Ohio State played a Thanksgiving weekend game against Chattanooga in the venue, a game which OSU won 84-67. Earlier this year, Ohio State faced VMI on Nov. 25 in St. John and emerged with a 90-57 win during which Butler set the school career record for three-pointers.

"I wouldn't say it's a second home, but I like playing here," Terwilliger said. "It's always fun when we get to play here. It's always a good environment so it should be fun."

Working on the environment will be an important factor for the Ohio State team. The game against Chattanooga in 2004 drew 11,568 fans, but the contest against VMI saw just 6,670 fans come through the doors.

When the Buckeyes opened the NIT Tuesday night with a 84-66 win over North Carolina-Asheville, 7,117 fans were attendance, though Matta praised the intimate crowd for making its fair share of racket.

This time around, such a crowd should make a little more noise given the close confines of the old barn.

"I remember playing Chattanooga in here my first year and I think we made 17 threes in that game and maybe there were 10,000 (fans) and this place was loud, so I'm excited for that," Matta said. "It's kind of unique that we're playing over here this late in the season, and hopefully it'll remind people of the good old days and they'll come out and enjoy a great evening."

"I think it does get a little louder in here because everything is so close and compact," sophomore David Lighty said. "It should be a good atmosphere."

That atmosphere, of course is brought on by the history and layout of the building. Matta grew up in Hoopeston, Ill., but rooted for Indiana and Purdue, he said, as he watched Buckeyes like Herb Williams suit up for classic Big Ten clashes. He then suited up for Butler in college, playing in Hinkle Fieldhouse, known as one of the classic venues in college basketball and a place Matta describes as similar to St. John.

"You think about the history in here," Matta said. "Hopefully we're building that history in the Schott, but when you think about Hinkle Fieldhouse, you think about a place like this and all of the championships that have been won in there and all of the great games."

All of that history even funneled its way down to Terwilliger, who was aware of the storied past of Buckeye basketball that is shown in the rafters of St. John.

"Looking at all of the Big Ten championships up there and everything, you definitely can feel the history," Terwilliger said.

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