After a 10-day layoff for autumn quarter exams, the OSU men’s basketball team returns to action Saturday night against Portland State (8 p.m., WWHO-TV 53).
But the main topic at Friday’s interview session with head coach Thad Matta and the players was the self-imposed postseason ban the university announced on Thursday. The sanctions relate back to former coach Jim O’Brien’s admission that he gave more than $6,000 in humanitarian aid to a Serbian recruit, Aleksandar Radojevic.
In announcing the penalty, OSU athletic director Andy Geiger said the program and university could still face more sanctions when the NCAA completes its full investigation, likely sometime during the summer of 2005.
Of course, this news was a big blow to OSU seniors Brandon Fuss-Cheatham, Matt Marinchick and Tony Stockman. Fuss-Cheatham and Marinchick each played in the NCAA Tournament with OSU in 2002. But Stockman, who transferred in after playing two seasons at Clemson, will complete his career without ever playing in an NCAA game.
Thad Matta, in his first year as the OSU coach, hopes the fans get behind his team, even though they will not be eligible for postseason play beyond the Big Ten tournament.
“The one thing I’ve always said since I’ve been in Columbus is I’ve never seen fans more passionate about their team, their Buckeyes and just their love for Ohio State University,” Matta said. “My hopes are these people will see these kids competing with great intensity, great passion and have a great understanding for that.
“These are young kids who are representing Ohio State University the best that they can. They’re playing a great brand of basketball. Hopefully they will support us and continue to help us build this foundation for our program.”
Stockman said he was “upset” over the announcement that OSU had pulled itself out of postseason consideration, but he said it was not unexpected.
“I think we had a good chance of making it to at least one of the tournaments,” Stockman said. “But now I’m just trying to stay focused on what we’re trying to do for the rest of the season. We want to finish it off good and stay motivated.
“The team talked about making sure we stayed on the right track and just try to make some noise and be the spoiler. We want to show people we would have deserved to play in the tournament. We still have some things to play for.”
Stockman admitted it is hard to imagine playing his college career without feeling March Madness.
“I never got to play in it and I’m going to end my career like that,” Stockman said. “That is upsetting. But there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s not like if I get mad it will change. We just need to do the best we can and try to do something in the Big Ten tournament.
“You want to play in the NCAA because that’s where the elite teams are and everybody raises their game when they get there.”
OSU captain Terence Dials got a medical redshirt two years ago or he would be a senior now. He said he sympathized with Stockman’s plight.
“Especially for Tony Stockman, this is hard because he hasn’t been to the NCAA,” Dials said. “I feel bad for all of the seniors. This was their year to go out and have fun and try to play for something.
“Certain things can pull a team together. Hopefully, this is one of those things. Now we can play the role of the spoiler and spoil a lot of teams’ big dreams. We can at least still go out and try to win the Big Ten regular season championship and the tournament championship. I can remember when we did both of those things in 2002 and it was a lot of fun.
“Coach Matta talked that he still wants to win 20 games. He said on Selection Sunday he wants to hear them say, `If those Buckeyes were in there, they would have done something.’ ”
OSU (5-2) returns to action by hosting Portland State (4-3) on Saturday. The Buckeyes have not played since a Dec. 1 loss at Clemson.
“Hopefully, we’ve worked on some areas that we felt needed some improvement coming out of the Clemson game,” Matta said. “It was good to take the time off with finals. I give our guys some credit. I think we’ve gotten better with the time off we had.
“I think our guys are anxious to get out and play a game. It’s been a long time since we’ve been here at the Schottenstein Center.”