Monday, March 08, 1999

Ohio State savors invitation


Buckeyes go from last to No. 4 seed

The Associated Press

        Just a year ago, Ken Johnson started on an Ohio State team that finished last in the Big Ten and matched the school record for losses in a season.

        On Sunday, with mostly the same personnel, the Buckeyes weren't just in the NCAA tournament — they were a No.4 seed playing not far from home.

        “I have to pinch myself,” said Johnson, a junior center. “I never would have expected being anywhere close to the NCAA tournament, especially after the season we had last year. It's a terrific feeling. It's a blessing.”

        Ohio State (23-8), which meets Murray State in Indianapolis Thursday, has plummeted to the depths since the last time it made a trip to the NCAAs in 1992. That year, Jimmy Jackson was one of the top players in the country and the Buckeyes were on a roll.

        The next season, Ohio State went 15-13 after Jackson jumped to the NBA.

        Then, the Buckeyes strung together a school-record five straight losing seasons — including last year's 8-22 record which included a 1-15 Big Ten record and a 17-game losing skid.

        Almost as troubling were the problems the Buckeyes created off the court.

        Seventeen of the 24 players recruited in a four-year span flunked out, were kicked off the team, transferred or couldn't play for medical reasons.

        “Those days are over,” leading-scorer Michael Redd said.

        “We're looking to the future. Hopefully we can do this every year, getting into the tournament and then doing well.”

        Jason Singleton had suffered through three seasons in which the Buckeyes won 28 games, including just nine in the Big Ten.

        “A year or so ago, I had no idea where I'd be,” the senior forward said. “But I'm so happy that we're fortunate enough to be in the tournament.”

       



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