Looking Back at Ohio State Basketball's 11 Trips to the Final Four

By Chris Lauderback on April 4, 2019 at 11:05 am
Ohio State boasts 11 trips to the Final Four in school history.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

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It was considered quite the accomplishment to even make the NCAA Tournament field this year after Chris Holtmann's squad went 18-13 during the regular season but deep tournament runs aren't as scarce in program history as one might think. 

Yes, Ohio State owns just one national title, coming way back in 1960, but the school boasts 11 Final Four appearances which is good for sixth-most in NCAA history.  

For perspective, that's three more than both Indiana and Michigan and one more than Michigan State. (I'm, of course, counting the vacated 1999 Final Four but it happened, I saw it.)

With the 2019 Final Four set to tip-off this Saturday, here's a look at Ohio State's 11 trips in school history. 


THE FIRST EVER...

Ohio State's first Final Four came in 1939 which also served as the first ever version of the NCAA Tournament. 

Only eight teams were invited to participate, while the NIT hosted its own six-team field, and the Buckeyes did work beating Wake Forest and Villanova over a two-day stretch in Philadelphia to reach the title game. 

In Evanston, Illinois nine days later, Ohio State fell 46-33 to the Oregon Webfoots in the title tilt as Jimmy Hull became the only Buckeye not named Jerry Lucas to win the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award. Interestingly, both came in losing efforts. 

Harold Olsen's squad (who is a hoops legend you should read about) went 16-7 on the season and 10-2 in Big Ten play to earn a bid in the Big Waltz or whatever they called it back then. 

THREE IN A ROW

With coach Olsen still at the controls, Ohio State made it to three-straight Final Fours from 1944 through 1946. 

Two-time All-American Dick Grate paced the '44 and '45 squads to Final Four trips leading both to 10-2 records in conference play. 

With the field still just at eight teams, Ohio State beat Temple in Madison Square Garden to reach the 1944 Final Four but fell to Dartmouth, 60-53, the following day. The next season, Grate led the Buckeyes to a win over Kentucky vaulting them into the Final Four but two days later they would fall to New York University, again in Madison Square Garden, in a 70-65 overtime heartbreaker. 

In 1946, Ohio State again made the eight-team field and won the first game, a 46-38 decision over Harvard, before again losing its Final Four match up in overtime, this time against North Carolina. The Buckeyes did go on to beat Cal in the third-place game. 

Olsen hung up his whistle after the '46 season and his 259 career wins at Ohio State rank third on the school's all-time list behind Thad Matta (337) and Fred Taylor (297). 

SENSATIONAL SIXTIES

Following Olsen's departure, Ohio State failed to reach the Final Four under William Dye (four seasons) and Floyd Stahl (eight seaons) and in 1959, the school turned its basketball program over to Taylor. 

After a .500 campaign to kick off his tenure, Taylor's recruiting efforts paid off as Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek, Joe Roberts, Larry Siegfried and Mel Nowell went 25-3 overall and 13-1 in Big Ten play on the way to the only men's basketball national title in school history. 

Lucas was the best player in college basketball averaging 26 points and 16 boards per game and Ohio State destroyed Cal, 75-55, in the Cow Palace in San Francisco, no less, to clinch the championship as every starter reached double figures in points and the Buckeyes shot 67% from the floor. 

The Buckeyes appeared poised to repeat in 1961 but dropped a 70-65 overtime thriller to Cincinnati despite 27 points and 12 rebounds from Lucas and 14 points from Siegfried. To Ohio State's demise, Havlicek and Nowell combined to shoot just 4-of-14. Despite losing the title, Lucas earned MOP honors. 

Taylor's squad posted a 27-1 mark on the season including a perfect 14-0 mark in league play. 

Looking for revenge in 1962, the Buckeyes again fell to Cincinnati in the national championship game, this time 71-59. Ohio State reached the title game by beating Wake Forest but Lucas injured his knee in the win and wasn't close to 100% tallying just 11 points and 16 rebounds in the loss to the Bearcats. 

When the dust settled on the three-year run with Lucas and Havlicek on the roster, the Buckeyes posted an overall mark of 78-6 with three Final Fours but two title game losses to Cincinnati. 

Just six years later, Taylor had the Buckeyes back in the Final Four behind Bill Hosket and Dave Sorenson. As a senior in '68, Hosket averaged 20 points and 11 boards for the Buckeyes, helped them to the Big Ten title and became Ohio State's first Academic All-American in hoops. 

Ohio State beat Kentucky to reach the Final Four but lost to North Carolina, 80-66, as Hosket and Sorenson had horrible shooting nights (9-for-28) combining for 25 points and 20 rebounds. Charlie Scott, father of Shannon Scott who played for Ohio State from 2011-15, was one of five Tar Heels in double figures with 13 points. 

The Buckeyes would go on to beat Elvin Hayes and Houston in the third-place game. Hayes racked up 34 points but on 34 shots while Ohio State's Steve Howell went of for 26, backed up by 19 from Sorenson and a ridiculous 19 points and 17 rebounds from Hosket. 

SERBIAN VACATION

Ohio State ended a 31-year Final Four drought with an an improbable run to the 1999 Final Four sparked by the sensational play of Boston College transfer Scoonie Penn and Michael Redd. 

With Penn, Redd and Ken Johnson doing the heaviest lifting, Ohio State earned a No. 4 seed in the Dance. After handling lower seeds Murray State (13) and Detroit (12) in the first two rounds, the Buckeyes ran into No. 1 seed Auburn but closed the game on a 9-0 run and got 48 combined points from Penn and Redd to advance to the Elite Eight. 

With a Final Four berth on the line, Penn and Redd combined for 42 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists to outlast St. John's, earning a date with Connecticut in St. Petersburg, Florida. 

Ohio State's magical run would end there however as the eventual national champs beat the Buckeyes 64-58 behind 24 points from Rip Hamilton. Penn and Redd never got going, missing 21 of 31 shots while no other Buckeyes reached double figures. 

Of course, the 1999 Final Four would later be erased from the record books after an NCAA investigation uncovered, among other things, that reserve swingman Boban Savovic accepted impermissible benefits. 

THAD MATTA TO THE RESCUE

After a 30-3 regular season saw freshmen Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. dominate alongside veterans Ron Lewis, Jamar Butler, Othello Hunter and Ivan Harris, Ohio State earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. 

Ohio State faced a tough draw after running over Central Connecticut State in the first round. No. 9 seed Xavier had Ohio State before Lewis saved the season with a splashy triple to end regulation (as part of a 27-point effort), paving the way for Conley Jr. to own overtime and avoid a colossal upset. 

The next round wasn't any easier as No. 5 seed Tennessee built a 49-32 lead before Ohio State came roaring back, outscoring the Vols 53-35 in the second half to prevail 85-84. Lewis was again a beast scoring 18 of his 25 in the final 20 minutes and Oden blocked Ramar Smith's attempted game-winner to seal the deal against cheatin-ass Bruce Pearl's squad. 

With a trip to the Final Four on the line against No. 2 seed Memphis in San Antonio, the Buckeyes used a 51-38 second half to come away with a 92-76 win behind another 22 points from Lewis, 19 from Conley, and 17 points and nine rebounds from Oden. 

Facing another No. 2 seed in the Final Four, Georgetown, the Buckeyes won a 67-60 slugfest. Roy Hibbert (19 points) and Jeff Greene (12 rebounds) kept the Hoyas close but Conley's 15 points, six boards and five assists controlled the game while Oden added 13 points and nine boards. 

The magical run would end in the title game however as Florida's senior-laden lineup featuring Al Horford, Corey Brewer, Joakim Noah and Taurean Green, among others, built a 40-29 halftime lead and really never looked back. The Gators drained 10-of-18 beyond the arc while Ohio State went 4-for-23 in what turned out to be the decisive statistics. 

Playing their final games for Ohio State, Oden and Conley were sensational and Greg posted 25 points and 20 boards while Mike added 20 points and six assists. 

Even with the loss, Ohio State finished with a 35-4 record and swept the Big Ten regular and postseason championships. 

Matta had one more Final Four run in him as the 2012 Buckeyes led by Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas, Willie Buckets, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Aaron Craft earned a No. 2 seed and beat No. 7 seed Gonzaga, No. 6 seed Cincinnati and No. 1 seed Syracuse before losing to No. 2 seed Kansas. 

After crushing Loyola in the opening round, Craft went for 17 points and 10 assists while Sullinger and Thomas added 18 points apiece to turn back the Zags. Two days later, Sullinger and Thomas combined for 47 points and 17 boards against the always rough-and-tumble Bearcats setting up an Elite Eight battle with Jim Boeheim's squad. 

Sullinger played just six minutes in the first half due to foul trouble yet it was Boeheim who cried about the officials afterward as the Buckeyes won 77-70 in Boston. Sullinger went for 19 points in 26 minutes, Amir Williams played nine competent minutes in his absence giving fans false hope for the future while Buford (13 points, 9 rips), Smith Jr. (18 points) and Thomas (14 points, 9 boards) all did work. 

The run to the Final Four ended versus Kansas however as the Buckeyes shot 34% from the floor as Sullinger and Thomas combined to miss 25 of 33 shots. 

Despite the poor shooting, Ohio State built a lead up to 13 points and led for 36 minutes of game action before Thomas Robinson and company completed the comeback, 64-62. 

The Buckeyes finished the season with a 31-8 mark and a Big Ten regular season crown. 

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