DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — Thad Matta loves the University of Dayton Arena. Really.
Even though Ohio State hasn’t fared all that well in Dayton since he’s been the head coach – never made it through the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament intact – it’s still the place for his fondest college basketball memory.
”When I was a player, I may have had my grandest game ever in this building,” Matta said, being interviewed in a room just up a walkway from the court. ”Yes, I say that jokingly, but I hit a last-second shot.”
That left-handed shot for Butler – coming out of a timeout in which his coach listed the other four players as scoring options – is still clear in Matta’s mind. So are those less-joyful days in front of the 13,409 blue and red seats, when he was calling plays during timeouts for the Buckeyes. Second-seeded Ohio State (26-7) is only 1-2 in Dayton during the NCAA tournament under Matta.
Still, when it comes to bad moments in the building, those Buckeyes have nothing on Iona (20-13), their opponent on Friday. The Gaels had the biggest meltdown in NCAA tournament history on that court last year.
Iona pulled out to a 25-point lead over BYU late in the first half in a First Four game, then squandered all of it and lost 78-72 for a place on the wrong side of tournament history – biggest blown lead. Only four players remain from that team, and they tried hard not to let those bad feelings creep back when they returned to the arena on Thursday.
”It’s not something that I try to think about,” senior Lamont Jones said. ”At that point in time, we lost. I took what I could from it. But it’s not something that fuels my fire. It’s a totally different team, totally different identity, personalities, nine new players.”
They couldn’t forget about it completely. Their coach won’t let them.
When the new-look Gaels were struggling to come together early in the season, coach Tim Cluess reminded them of that NCAA disappointment and what they needed to do to get a chance to go back to the tournament and give a better showing.
”We used last year’s game as motivation to drive us toward this year,” Cluess said. ”It gave us a chance to return. Had that not happened, I don’t think we’d be sitting here right now.”
Iona doesn’t really have a good NCAA tournament memory. The Gaels are 1-8 in the tournament, but the lone victory – 84-78 over Holy Cross in 1980 – was later vacated because of NCAA violations.
An upset of the Buckeyes on their close-to-home court would be one of the biggest in a season that’s been full of such surprises.
Continue Reading: Ohio State looking to escape Dayton this time (The Associated Press)