Follow Noon | Rowland | Givler | Birmingham
BOSTON - Nearly 50 years to the day, Ohio State and Cincinnati will meet again in the NCAA Tournament.
It was March 1962 when the heavily favored Buckeyes fell to the Bearcats in the national championship game for a second straight year. Ohio State, led by two of the 50 greatest players of all time, Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek, had won the 1960 national title and lost to UC in the '61 edition of the game.
The Buckeyes were going to get revenge in '62, only the Bearcats had other plans. Behind a most outstanding player performance by Paul Hogue, Cincinnati did the unthinkable two consecutive seasons. Ohio State has only been to three Final Fours and one championship game since. Not once did they win the whole thing.
That spring, Hogue, Lucas and Havlicek were all selected among the first seven picks in the NBA Draft.
Both head coaches, the legendary Fred Taylor and Ed Jucker, have passed away, some players have died and the rest are in their 70s, even the arena - Louisville's Freedom Hall - has given way to the new age where luxury suites rule.
Neither Thad Matta nor Mick Cronin were born before the '62 game. But it doesn't diminish the memories that still live with Ohio State and Cincinnati fans five decades later. The heartbreak still resonates in Columbus, while their enemies to the south have not quit gloating.
Central Ohio native Bud Metz was serving in the Army in 1962. Stationed in Augusta, Ga., Metz was unable to watch the championship game in or even listen to it on the radio.
My, how times have changed.
The morning after the game he drove to a local business to purchase a copy of the Augusta Chronicle. Driving in his convertible on a busy Augusta thoroughfare, Metz glanced down at the paper only to read the headline, "Oops, Bearcats win."
The paper was given the heave-ho, swirling around the streets.
"It's unique," said Lucas, who won Most Outstanding Player honors in a losing effort in 1961. "I'm recognized in various parts of the world, but when I'm in Columbus, Ohio, and people realize I'm Jerry Lucas, the excitement is just overwhelming because those teams really touched the state.
"It was a special group of people all from Ohio."
Matta said he's heard chatter in the locker room amongst the players about the history between Ohio State and Cincinnati this week. He has a roster that includes six Ohioans, though. Cronin's Bearcats have just two.
Sean Kilpatrick, a New York native, and JaQuon Parker, who hails from Virginia, had to be informed of the animosity between the two universities separated by just 108 miles.
"They told us that they played in two championships or something and we were underdogs and we beat them," Parker said.
Ohioan Yancy Gates said playing Ohio State is exciting, but admitted that he and his teammates would be up for whoever they were slated against in the Sweet 16.
"We could have been playing Murray State or anybody," Gates said.
Refusals to play each other finally ceased in 2006 when the Buckeyes beat Cincinnati, 72-50, in Indianapolis in the Wooden Tradition. Ohio State was led by Greg Oden and Mike Conley while the Bearcats were in the midst of a down year after the firing of Bob Huggins.
The game took place during Cronin's first season as UC's head coach and he and Matta exchanged verbal barbs afterwards.
"I'm not going to beat a dead horse," Cronin said at the time. "From everything that's been said the last few days, it's pretty clear (Ohio State) is not interested in (playing a home-and-home). They caught us when we were down.
"Cincinnati basketball has had great tradition and it's been quite successful since 1962. So if they don't want to play us why would they elect to schedule the game at this point?"
To which Matta fired back.
"I don't even know who scheduled the game," he said. "I think the Wooden Tradition called us and said do you have an interest in playing Cincinnati on CBS? I think they jumped at it just like we did. Nobody was feeling sorry for me when I got to Ohio State, were they?"
To answer Matta's question, no, people were not. Former head coach Jim O'Brien left the program in the NCAA crosshairs after paying a recruit $4,000, among numerous violations committed by the previous regime. The Buckeyes self-imposed an NCAA tournament ban, but Matta still began an immediate rebuilding project.
He took a team that went 14-16 the year prior to his arrival and won 20 games, including the famous take down of undefeated and No. 1 Illinois.
Cronin has performed a similar reclamation project, going from 11 wins in his first season to 26 this year.
Now, 50 years after highs and lows for both proud programs, Ohio State and Cincinnati meet again in the NCAA Tournament.
And once again, an opportunity for the grand prize is to be won or lost.
...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now for a FREE Trial