Sunday, March 21, 1999

Redd finds redemption on the floor




BY PAUL DAUGHERTY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — This is how the drought ends: Prone on the floor, eyes shut tight, hoping it's not a dream, knowing it isn't. Thirty-one years is a long time between Final Fours. The last five years seemed like forever. Heck, last year was eternity. Michael Redd fell prone to the floor and let loose every emotion he had.

        He spotted the irony immediately. Last winter, when Ohio State was losing 17 straight and finishing 8-22, Redd cried after every game. Once, at Minnesota, Gophers coach Clem Haskins left his starters in for 40 minutes. The Buckeyes lost by 23. “Every game was miserable,” Redd said. “Every night I thought it couldn't get worse.”

        Now, he was on the floor of Thompson-Boling Arena, crying again, exorcising sorrow and celebrating triumph all at once. Ohio State had beaten St. John's 77-74 and now the Buckeyes were going to the Final Four.

        Michael Redd, the sophomore who was great last year when his team was terrible, scored 20 points, including the last one. He was delivered to the Final Four, the most special of college basketball places, by his own jumpshot, silky and left-handed, which he used to score 17 first-half points. But also by a backcourt partner named Scoonie, who transferred in from Boston College last year and sat out the season, as hopeless as Redd was miserable.

        Scoonie Penn had 22 Saturday, all of them vital. Whenever the Red Storm made a run in the second half, Penn felled them with a three-point bullet. He was co-MVP of the Big 10 for a reason, namely that he brought a flair for winning to a program that had forgotten how.

Redd knows bad times...
        Penn was accustomed to victory. He was thrilled after the game. But he could not have known what Michael Redd knew.

        Redd is from Columbus. He witnessed the wreckage of Randy Ayers' final seasons, when players bounced in and out of the program like they were changing buses, when losses were as frequent as they were predictable. He could have gone elsewhere. He stayed home.

        “I wanted to be a piece of the puzzle, part of this thing being rebuilt,” he said.

        After embarrassing St. John's star Ron Artest with a scoop layup 18 seconds into the second half, Redd went scoreless the rest of the way, until the final free throw. It wasn't fatal for the Buckeyes, because Penn was there to keep the motor running.

        Twice after the Red Storm crept to within six — “they refused to go away nicely,” OSU coach Jim O'Brien said — Penn drilled three-pointers. “A couple players (were) determined to keep the momentum with Ohio State,” Red Storm coach Mike Jarvis said of Redd and Penn.

...And now the good
        OSU led 76-74 with 12.2 seconds to play when Erick Barkley of St. John's began dribbling the ball down the court, guarded by Penn. He got to the top of the key when he bounced the ball off his foot and into Redd's hands.

        Maybe Penn got a hand on it. “I think I did,” he said. Maybe not.

        “It was my fault,” a distraught Barkley said. “I lost the game.”

        It came down to the final moment, and it was fitting in that moment that Michael Redd had the ball in his hands. He made one free throw with seven-tenths of a second left. The buzzer sounded. Redd, the local kid, witness to so much recent Buckeye misery, fell to the floor, overwhelmed by all he had endured and enjoyed.

        “This is the end result of all the suffering,” Redd said. “Kids getting kicked out of the program, coach (Randy) Ayers getting fired.”

        He rose from the floor to hug Penn, then lifted the little point guard into the air for what had to be a minute. He found O'Brien and put his head on the coach's shoulder. The end result of all the suffering, yes.

        They play Connecticut Saturday, in the national semifinals. “Can't wait to get to Florida,” Redd said. “Can't wait to play in the Final Four.”

        Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.

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