It was January 18th, 1988. I was a freshman at Ohio State and as a member of Block O, I had some amazing courtside seats at St. John Arena. Literally, I was in the front row in the seat NEXT TO the basket.
Michigan came to town that night at 14-1. They were ranked 7th in the nation. The game was broadcast live on national TV.
Michigan had players like Glenn Rice and Rumeal Robinson. One year later, this team would win the NCAA Title, so you have a capsule of how good they were.
Ohio State had players named Tony White, Steve Francis, Jay Burson, Grady Mateen…names you would only know if you were a fan of the Buckeyes, because they weren’t going to make it big in the NBA for certain.
SJA was on fire from the start because Ohio State had just knocked off 17th-ranked Iowa a few days ago, and the obvious excitement that comes with playing your school’s biggest rival at home.
Back and forth the game went. Ohio State led by 3, Michigan led by 4. The game always stayed within 7-9 points. With 45 seconds to play, we were up 2 points, and the ball was in the sure hands of Burson. We wound the clock down to 30 seconds, and the shot clock was winding down. Burson drove the lane and lost the ball to Michigan off his foot. But he kept going and dove into a Wolverine player holding the ball and forced a tie-up. And Ohio State had the possession arrow!
The Buckeyes had the chance to run out the clock or get fouled and add to the lead at the line….but we threw the inbounds pass away. Michigan went down the floor and Rice hit a shot to tie the game at 68-68 with 13 seconds to play.
The Buckeyes then schooled Michigan with passes. They went from end-to-end in six seconds with three amazing passes, and the ball NEVER touched the hardwood floor. The final pass led to a wide-open slam dunk by Mateen, who then danced his way back up the court. Robinson fell down as he scrambled to get in the lane and the ball skipped away, but it still got into Rice’s hands, who launched a three at the buzzer. It glanced off the rim, and 13,230 fans went wild.
A pile-up occurred under the basket with Buckeye players leaping on top of each other in celebration. Watching the tape later that night, I saw Jerry Francis looking like he was crying on his way back to the locker room, swatting high-fives with fans so hard that he might have broken an arm or two.
I love the Buckeye team of Greg Oden and Michael Conley.
I’ll always cherish the years of Scoonie Penn and Michael Redd.
I’ll forever praise Jimmy Jackson and Treg Lee.
But nothing will compare to the night guys named Mateen, Burson, Francis and White gave us a present nobody expected.
Tonight’s game is under way. Excuse me while I watch.