Sunday, March 21, 1999

OHIO STATE 77, ST. JOHN'S 74


From 8-22 to Final Four 'so wonderful'

BY MICHAEL PERRY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Ohio State coach Jim O'Brien made the final snip. The net came off one of the baskets in Thompson-Boling Arena, then — dressed in his suit and wearing a baseball cap with a tag hanging off it — he joined his players at midcourt to dance around while the crowd cheered.

        “They've been on me to get into that stuff all year when we've kind of kept a lid on all of our emotions, but sometimes it's time to let your hair down a little bit,” O'Brien said later. “It was a little bit spontaneous. Hopefully I didn't make too much of fool of myself.”

        Continuing what may be the most stunning turnaround in college basketball history, Ohio State defeated St. John's 77-74 on Saturday night to win the South Region and earn a spot in the national semifinals.

        The Buckeyes (27-8) were 8-22 a year ago — their fifth consecutive losing season — and had averaged just 9.4 victories during those five years.

        Now they have a meeting with the University of Connecticut on Saturday in St. Petersburg, Fla., for the right to play for the national championship. The Huskies, the top-seeded team from the West Region, defeated Gonzaga on Saturday in Phoenix.

        It was an emotional night for the Buckeyes, who are headed to the Final Four for the first time in 31 years.

        After cutting down the nets, junior point guard Scoonie Penn climbed into the stands to hug his mother and later emerged from the locker room in tears. Sophomore Michael Redd cried in O'Brien's arms.

        And O'Brien found himself at midcourt, also crying,

        “The emotions, I think, got the best of a lot of us,” he said. “It's just really, really hard to put into words the feeling that is shared by all of us right now. It's hard to imagine that we've put ourselves in this position.”

        OSU's trip to the Final Four was not secure until the final seconds.

        After keeping St. John's at arm's length the entire second half, the Buckeyes had to hold on at the end.

        Ron Artest scored on a driving layup in traffic to pull St. John's within 75-73 with 24.5 seconds remaining.

        The Red Storm fouled freshman Brian Brown, and he missed the front end of a one-and-one. Then OSU's George Reese fouled Chudney Gray with 12.2 seconds to go.

        Timeout OSU.

        Gray missed the first, made the second. It was 75-74.

        Timeout St. John's.

        Gray fouled Penn before the ball was inbounded, and the 5-foot-10 point guard made 1 of 2. It was 76-74.

        St. John's came down the court and point guard Erick Barkley lost control of the ball for his only turnover of the night. Redd grabbed it and raced toward the Buckeyes' end of the court. He was fouled with .7 seconds on the clock. He made the first free throw to account for the final margin.

        “I'm not even sure what happened,” said Penn, who was guarding Barkley. “I think I got a hand on the ball.”

        Barkley leaned forward on his knees, head down.

        “At the end, it just slipped away from us,” St. John's Lavor Postell said.

        When the buzzer finally sounded, Penn dropped on his back and was immediately swarmed by teammates. O'Brien's two daughters ran onto the court and embraced their father simultaneously.

        A shirtless Penn, before putting on his Final Four T-shirt, ran around the court waving his jersey.

        “It was just like a sigh of relief,” Penn said. “I couldn't believe it. I couldn't have written it any better.”

        The Buckeyes led by as many as 11 points in the first half before going into the locker room with a 41-33 lead. St. John's missed its first seven shots, fell behind 5-0 and spent the entire night playing catchup.

        Penn led Ohio State with 22 points and eight assists and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the South Region. Redd scored 20 points, and Ken Johnson and Jason Singleton combined to add 25 points; Johnson also had four rebounds and seven blocks.

        Said Redd: “We suffered so much last year. It hurt. We were crying after every game. For this season to happen the way it happened, it feels so wonderful.”

        St. John's, which beat Maryland 76-62 in a regional semifinal, did not look like the same team. The Red Storm finished 28-9.

        “Any loss is tough,” coach Mike Jarvis said, “but I guess when you get this far they become a little bit tougher.”



Redd finds redemption on the floor
Big man plays big for Buckeyes
OHIO STATE NOTEBOOK
MARCH MADNESS PAGE


OHIO ST (77)
                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Brown           28   0-1   0-1   0-1  2  4    0
Singleton       21   6-7   1-1   0-2  2  4   13
Johnson         37   6-9   0-0   1-4  0  3   12
Penn            38  7-13   5-6   1-8  8  2   22
Redd            38  8-17   1-3   1-6  5  0   20
Coleman          2   0-1   0-0   0-0  0  0    0
Savovic         15   1-2   4-5   0-3  3  1    7
Sanderson        2   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  1    0
Reese           19   1-3   1-2   0-2  1  3    3
_______________________________________________
TOTALS         200 29-53 12-18  3-26 21 18   77
_______________________________________________

Percentages: FG-.547, FT-.667. 3-Point Goals: 7-14, .500 (Brown 0-1, Penn 3-6, Redd 3-4, Coleman 0-1, Savovic 1-2). Team rebounds: 2. Blocked shots: 9 (Johnson 7, Redd, Reese). Turnovers: 12 (Penn 3, Brown 2, Redd 2, Savovic 2, Johnson, Reese, Singleton). Steals: 5 (Penn 2, Reese 2, Singleton).

ST JOHNS (74) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Artest 31 4-10 0-0 3-9 2 4 9 Postell 38 8-19 4-6 3-9 2 2 24 T Grant 19 1-5 1-2 3-7 1 3 3 Thornton 37 7-12 3-4 2-3 1 1 18 Barkley 37 4-15 4-7 6-7 7 4 13 C Gray 7 1-1 1-2 0-0 0 4 3 Emanuel 6 0-0 2-2 0-1 0 1 2 Jessie 24 1-4 0-0 1-5 1 2 2 Richardson 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 26-66 15-23 18-41 14 21 74 _______________________________________________

Percentages: FG-.394, FT-.652. 3-Point Goals: 7-18, .389 (Artest 1-5, Postell 4-7, Thornton 1-3, Barkley 1-3). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: None. Turnovers: 13 (Artest 5, Thornton 3, Barkley, C Gray, Emanuel, Jessie, Postell). Steals: 7 (Artest 2, Thornton 2, Emanuel, Jessie, T Grant). __________________________________ Ohio St 41 36 - 77 St Johns 33 41 - 74 __________________________________ Technical fouls: None. A: 24,248. Officials: Libbey, Gene Monje, Mark Whitehead.