With the Ohio State men’s basketball team heading into its seventh straight NCAA Tournament with a unique mix of freshmen and seniors, coach Thad Matta said he doesn’t want his team playing for him, or themselves.
“The biggest battle cry they have heard from me throughout this year has been play for one thing, and one thing only, and that’s Ohio State,” he said.
Matta’s reasoning for what some might call his own version of the ‘Buckeye Battle Cry,’ came from an unusual, but personal experience.
The 11-year OSU coach was getting lunch at a sandwich shop before a game against Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., when he came across two elderly people donning Buckeye gear, he said.
“They said, ‘Coach Matta we are shocked to see you sitting in here on game day, could we take a picture with you? This is our Christmas gift to each other,’” Matta recalled. “(They said) ‘We live in Toledo and we came to Chicago to watch the Buckeyes.’
“I wonder how many guys on this team would understand what that means? It touched me, and it made me say, ‘Damn it Thad, you’ve got to win for those two people who saved their money to come watch us play in Chicago.’”
With a current roster that has just four Ohio natives on it, the OSU men’s basketball team also holds five freshmen and six seniors, but Matta said he wants them to come together and win for the school and its fans.
“It’s a heck of a lot bigger than us. We have something that we have to represent. I think when we do that, we play pretty good basketball,” Matta said. “I don’t care what (class) you are, just represent the university.”
The senior class on the OSU roster has seen almost all there is to see when it comes to the NCAA Tournament, including a trip to the Final Four and the Elite Eight before being bounced in the first round last year against Dayton.
The current senior class has just one Ohio native on it — forward Jake Lorbach, who joined the team prior to the 2012-2013 season — but is hungry to get back to past glory.
“I can’t speak for everybody, but I have a good feeling everybody is going to play their hardest basketball right now,” senior guard Shannon Scott said. “We might not shoot the ball well, we might get outrebounded and all that stuff, but (they) are not going to have more heart than us on the court.”
The Buckeyes were given a No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament and are set to play Virginia Commonwealth, a team that made its own Final Four run just a year before OSU’s seniors walked into Columbus.
Senior forward Sam Thompson said while he doesn’t know much about the Rams, he remembers their Cinderella run.
“I was a fan when they made their deep run. We know that they are going to play hard,” Thompson said. “They are going to play with a ton of energy, and we are going to do the same thing.”
Going back to Matta’s theme, Thompson said that regardless of their seeding in the tournament, he came to OSU for a reason.
“This is the best time of the year, this is what we came to Ohio State to do – to play in the NCAA Tournament and have a chance to compete in the month of March,” Thompson said.
The Buckeyes will have a chance to do just that on Thursday as they are set to tip against VCU from Portland, Ore.