When A Title Became A Possibility

If head coach Thad Matta is to be believed, Ohio State did not realize it had a chance to win the Big Ten until the final game of the season. The video staff for the Buckeyes saw it differently, and it was that group that was responsible for putting out the public challenge that a conference title would have to run through Columbus.

Thad Matta might not have been able to see the forest for the trees, but a handful of Ohio State employees could tell that the Buckeyes were putting together a special season.

It all came together when OSU hosted Purdue Feb. 17 with the right to sit alone atop the Big Ten standings. The stands were full for the only time all season, and when the lights dropped just prior to the opening tip the sold-out Value City Arena crowd was treated to a new highlight video.

The OSU video services staff annually updates the scoreboard videos throughout the course of the season, but this game and this situation required something different.

In white letters against a black background, the video read, "A season of doubt becomes a season of destiny." Then the intensity and tempo of the music quickened.

"Championships are won in February," it said. Then, "Championships are won right here." The final message was loud and clear, as the fans roared in reply: "The Big Ten championship goes through Columbus!"

With the Buckeyes having won nine of their last 10 games heading into the game and sitting tied with Michigan State atop the league standings that day, it seemed like the right time to issue such a statement.

"Usually you get a feel for it," said Rob Milan, assistant manager for video services at OSU. "This year when we were making a run for the Big Ten there was a big push to ramp things up and make everything a little bit more exciting for the games."

It was the closest anyone associated to the OSU men's basketball program would come to admitting that the team was in the running for a conference title. Throughout the season, head coach Thad Matta and his players constantly spoke of keeping their focus on the next task at hand without letting the big picture creep into their thoughts.

Conversation in Milan's workplace led to the video change. Now in his third year on the job, Milan said the idea came from conversation between him and two or three other employees. In all, it took about two days to put together, he said.

That specific idea was not run past the coaching staff. Another video that aired that evening showing OSU's come-from-behind victory against Purdue earlier in the season was, and the coaches OK'd it with the provision that it run early enough in the evening that the Boilermakers not have a chance to see it.

David Egelhoff, director of basketball operations for the Buckeyes, said the coaches were fine with the final product even if it was not their idea.

"We didn't directly say, ‘Let's put that up there,' " he said. "We were just more interested in updating the video, making sure we were showing some current highlights and changing the song a little bit, that type of thing. It was about keeping it fresh.

"That was on the fan development people and the video staff. The language was not at our directive."

Egelhoff pointed out that the Buckeyes do not have the opportunity to pay much attention to the pregame videos on the scoreboard because Matta is giving them their final instructions. However, junior point guard Evan Turner said he noticed a difference.

"We saw that it changed," he said. "We didn't know who did it. We were fortunate enough to win the Big Ten championship."

It was to Milan's chagrin that the Buckeyes lost that game to suffer their only home loss of the season, making him wonder if the staff had jinxed the home team by changing the video. A similar version of it ran for the final two home games that kept the final line about the championship going through Columbus.

The thought of putting such a message on the scoreboard was nonexistent throughout much of the season.

"If you had asked me before we played at Purdue, I would've said ‘no way' when you're looking at possibly being 1-4 (in the conference)," Milan said. "If you put something like that up at the beginning of the year when it's not looking like a great year then nobody pays attention. Purdue was really a great time, being that we were working our way back up and that was a huge game."

Milan said he could not hear the crowd's reaction because he was encased in the bunker under the bleachers behind the visiting team's bench where his staff operates during games. Egelhoff said he noticed it out of the corner of his eye.

The latter said it reflected a burgeoning sense of confidence from within the program, regardless of what was being said publicly.

"As things started going down the line, we definitely had an opportunity to do something special (as a team)," Egelhoff said. "I think there was a sense around the department that we were bold enough and our guys were confident enough that we said that wasn't a problem.

"That was the fan development and video staff rather than us, but it worked out well."

So did the season.

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