Three Underappreciated Single-Season Performances in Ohio State Basketball Annals

By Chris Lauderback on April 16, 2020 at 11:05 am
Brent Darby led Ohio State with 18.3 points per game in 2002-03.

Jerry Lucas. John Havlicek. Evan Turner. Jim Jackson. Dennis Hopson. Greg Oden. 

Those are just a few of the most celebrated names in Ohio State basketball history. Of course, there are many other great players to have passed through Columbus and many don't quite get their due. 

Digging back through the annals of OSU hoops I wanted to highlight three great individual performances over the last 40 years – by guys that weren't named to any of the traditional All-American teams. 

My selections are as follows:


Out of Teaneck, New Jersey, Tony Campbell arrived at Ohio State as a prototype small forward capable of scoring in a variety of ways. 

Entering his junior season, big things were expected from Campbell after a sophomore campaign in which the first-year starter averaged 12.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per night. 

Campbell would deliver as a junior, averaging team highs in points (19.0) and rebounds (8.3) while shooting a respectable 50.3% from the floor to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors. 

Across a five-game stretch early in the non-conference slate, he hit Florida for 28 points in an 80-74 win, contributed 22 points, 10 boards and four steals in a double-overtime loss to West Virginia and tossed in 23 points in a tough loss to Syracuse. He'd back up those outings with 20 points and seven boards against Youngstown State before capping the run with 28 points and 10 rebounds in an 88-77 win over Arizona State. 

Campbell didn't just pick on non-conference foes. Early in the conference schedule he put up 23 points and eight rips as part of a 40-minute effort against Michigan. A few games later, he gave Minnesota a preview of a historical night to come with 22 points and 17 rebounds. 

Less than a week later, he kicked off a three-game stretch with 23 points in a four-point win over Wisconsin and backed it up with 37 points and 11 rebounds against the shell-shocked Gophers. Campbell shot 14-of-26 from the floor and 9-of-9 from the stripe on the night. A few days later, he dropped 21 on Northwestern, keeping Ohio State on a modest winning streak. 

Toward the back-end of the conference slate, Campbell logged 55 minutes in a triple-overtime loss to Michigan State, scoring 29 points and adding eight rebounds. 

Standing at 19-9, Ohio State earned an NCAA Tournament bid and Campbell promptly led the Buckeyes to a revenge-win over Syracuse, 79-74. Despite fouling out after logging just 23 minutes, Campbell led Ohio State with 17 points and nine rebounds. 

The tournament victory was the program's first since 1980 (Arizona State) and the third since 1971 (Marquette). 

The Buckeyes would lose to North Carolina to end the season at 20-10, marking just the third time in 12 seasons the program reached the 20-win plateau. 

JAY BURSON - 1988-89

Older fans might not see Jay Burson's 1988-89 season as underappreciated but in my view, the totality of his performance doesn't get enough run. People immediately bring up his injury and focus on that but few could tell you many details about the special season he was putting together before its abrupt end. 

Coming off a junior campaign that saw him average 18.1 points per game, Burson kicked it up a notch in his final hurrah averaging 22.1 points while nearly doubling his assists per game with 4.0, to go along with 2.0 steals and 87.6% shooting from the stripe. 

All those marks led the team and landed the captain first-team All-Big Ten honors alongside Glen Rice and Nick Anderson, among others. Burson beat out guards including Steve Smith, Kendall Gill, B.J. Armstrong, Rumeal Robinson and Roy Marble for his spot in what was a loaded conference. 

Burson's 22.1 points were second only to Glen Rice in the league. He he ranked sixth in free throws and ninth in steals despite missing 10 games. 

Burson opened the season with 38 points and five assists in a Maui Classic loss to No.5 ranked Oklahoma and continued his Hawaiian dominance with 28 points and eight assists in a win over DePaul before adding 19 points in the final consolation. 

Over the three-game stretch, Burson averaged 28.3 points and 5.0 assists. 

He continued his prolific shot-making on the mainland throwing in 21 points against Lafayette before a 24-point, seven-assist night against Dayton. 

In a five-game stretch overlapping the 1988 and 1989 calendar years, Burson torched Florida for 37 points and eight assists, went for 23 and six assists against St. John's, threw in 25 points with six rebounds in a loss to Indiana, tallied 21 and five in a win over Wisconsin and capped it off with a 29-point, six-assist performance versus Radford. 

Ten days later in a home win over No. 7 Iowa, Burson outdueled Armstrong with 26 points on 11-of-16 shooting with six assists in a 102-91 win improving the Buckeyes to 13-4 on the season. 

Ten days after that, he list up No. 3 Louisville with 29 points and seven rebounds in an 85-79 win on the road in Freedom Hall. 

With Ohio State returning to conference play, Burson went for 26 points and five dimes in a win over Purdue but just a week later his magical season would come to an abrupt end. 

On the road in Iowa City to take on the No. 8 Hawkeyes, Burson poured in 25 points with six assists in an 83-75 loss. With 12 minutes left in the opening half, Burson, in transition, drove the lane hard against Iowa's Ed Horton. The foul by Horton wasn't an overly rough play – though his arm hit Burson's head forcing the guard into the basket support – but Jay, despite immediately grabbing at his neck, still shot his free throws and went on to play 36 minutes. 

Three days later it was revealed that Burson suffered a compression fracture in his neck and would be fitted for a halo traction brace which he wore for three months. 

A truly historical season was cut short and the Buckeyes felt the pain of Burson's absence, going 2-8 over the final 10 games, after winning 17 of 24 with him at the controls. 

BRENT DARBY - 2002-03

The 2002-03 Buckeyes weren't very good. The squad finished with a 17-15 mark and it's painful to think how much worse it would've been without the efforts of senior point guard Brent Darby. 

Darby led the squad in points per game (18.3), assists (4.4) and steals (1.8) while his 38.1 minutes per game and 205 made free throws led the Big Ten conference. He also ranked second in the league in points per game and steals (58). In Big Ten action, Darby was the only Buckeye to average double-figures in points. 

Darby began the season with two 30+ point outbursts in the first five games. He poured in 35 in a 91-76 loss to No. 4 Duke in the ACC/B1G Challenge, outscoring J.J. Redick by 15. 

Two games later, he hit 11-of-16 field goals and 13-of-14 from the stripe for 30 points against Morehead State. 

Before burning mid-majors Radford (19 points, eight assists) and Tennessee State (22 points, five assists), Darby went for 24 points in an overtime loss to No. 24 Louisville, playing all 45 minutes. 

Entering Big Ten action, Darby hit 5-of-7 triples and tallied 28 points in an 81-69 win over Indiana after adding 16 in a conference slate-opening loss to Michigan State. 

After three straight losses, Darby lit up Iowa for 29 points on the strength of 4-of-8 from downtown in an 83-72 win. 

Wins proved elusive but Darby kept going, putting up 20 points in a loss to Illinois four games later before an impressive 27-point, seven-assist outing in a 76-67 win over Penn State. 

Down the stretch, even as his minutes piled up, Darby kept firing. He had 16 and six in a win over Purdue, 20 points and seven assists in a loss to Iowa and 17 and six in a winning performance against Northwestern before capping the regular season slate with 20 points in another loss to Sparty. 

With a 7-9 mark, Ohio State entered the Big Ten Tournament as the No. 8 seed in an 11-team field but Darby would lead the Buckeyes on an improbable run to the championship game. 

In the tourney opener against Iowa, Darby recorded 17 points, seven assists and six rebounds in a 66-64. The next day, his 16 points, six assists and three rebounds led the Buckeyes past No. 1 seed Wisconsin. 

On Saturday, he poured in 23 points with five rebounds in a 55-54 win over No. 5 seed Michigan State, setting up a date with No. 2 seed Illinois in the title game. 

Darby was spectacular against the Illini, tallying 27 points and six assists but it wasn't enough to overcome Dee Brown, Luther Head and company in a 72-59 loss. 

It was truly a remarkable four days for Darby as he willed Ohio State into the final, playing 158 of 160 minutes, averaging 21 points and 5.5 assists to earn a spot on the All-Tournament team. 

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