OSU basketball players take free throw shooting practice at UD Arena during practice Thursday. Ohio State will take the court for their second seeded NCAA Tournament game on Friday vs. Iona . JIM WITMER / STAFF
Photo: Jim Witmer
Photo: Jim Witmer

Matta has long history at UD Arena

Ohio State coach Thad Matta gathered a few of his players at one end of the UD Arena court before their 40-minute practice Thursday and drew laughter as he shared how the highlight of his college career occurred in that very spot.

The NCAA tournament always has its signature send-off on CBS-TV, playing “One Shining Moment” through some March Madness highlights. And as he told the media a little earlier, Matta’s one shining moment as a Butler reserve came in a one-point win over Dayton.

“I can take you through it,” Matta said, recalling that 25-year-old memory with great clarity. “We were down seven with like 1:56 to go. Coach (Joe Sexson) calls timeout and said, ‘We need some 3’s.’ I come down and hit a 3, and we’re down four,” Matta said.

“We stop them, come back down, and I hit another 3. We’re down one. We get a turnover with like 20 seconds to go. The coach calls timeout and said, ‘OK, this is what we’re going to do.’ “

Matta said Sexson named four players as various options with no mention of him.

“I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Hey wait a minute, I got us back into this game,’ ” Matta said. “The play breaks down, they threw it to me, and I hit a left-handed runner as the horn went off. Literally, I scored eight points, and they were all in the last two minutes. That was the highlight of my playing days at Butler. That was it.”

While Matta may have fond memories as a player at UD, he’s had mixed results as a coach at the arena, going 3-1 while the head coach at Xavier and 1-2 in NCAA tourney games with Ohio State. But he’s led the Buckeyes to two Final Fours in his eight seasons, and many believe this year’s team is capable of reaching those heights again.

OSU (26-7) plays Metro Atlantic champ Iona (20-13) at 7:15 p.m. today, followed by a game between Notre Dame (25-9) and Iowa State (22-11). The winners meet Sunday.

Although playing three games in three days to win the Big Ten tourney title in Chicago last week was a grind, the Buckeyes should be well-rested. They didn’t arrive in town until Thursday afternoon, preferring to practice at OSU and then bus down.

“We got back as a staff and tried to plan the week out and said, ‘OK, we’ll leave Wednesday night and go to a high school here (in Dayton) and practice on Thursday.’ I said, ‘Wait a minute, why don’t we just stay Wednesday night? We’d all like to sleep in our own beds one more night,’ ” Matta said.

“We told our guys, it keeps us in the routine we’ve been in. Everything has sort of stayed status quo. Our guys are creatures of habit. We’ve been fortunate to be able to do that.”

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