It's Time To Dance For Aggies
March 13, 2001
Ohio State begins its bid for a second Final Four appearance in three years as it plays Utah State in a first-round NCAA tournament game in the East Regional.
The fifth-seeded Buckeyes (20-10) are not a spectacular team despite a third-place finish in the Big Ten. Unlike the 1999 Final Four team that featured a potent tandem in point guard Scoonie Penn and Michael Redd, this Buckeyes edition features the inside-outside game of center Ken Johnson and guard Brian Brown.
Johnson, who was granted a fourth year of eligibility after missing his freshman season due to academics, became the Big Ten's all-time leader in blocked shots this season and averaged four per contest. The 6-foot-11 center also became a force offensively, averaging 12.4 points on 57.8 shooting.
"I am really shocked about this 5 seed, it is absolutely huge for us," Johnson said. "We have not been getting much credit this season from anybody."
Brown was a reserve on the 1999 squad but has evolved into the team's best threat from the perimeter. He shot 40 percent (38-for-95) from 3-point range and was the team's leading scorer at 14.6 points per game.
"Honestly I thought we were going to get a six or seven, even an eight (seed) at worst," Brown said. "The number five seed is saying a lot, it's saying that you are one of the top 20 teams in the country. It is a great accomplishment."
Ohio State, which defeated Big Ten regular-season champion Illinois at home this season, suffered a 75-66 loss to Iowa in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.
Utah State (27-5), seeded 12th, is in the NCAA tournament for the second straight year and for the third time in the last four years. The Aggies captured the Big West Conference tournament and carry a five-game winning streak into this game.
The Aggies lost to 1999 national champion Connecticut in the first round last year.
"I think it's going to help so because last year we didn't know what to expect," Aggies point guard Bernard Rock about last year's NCAA tournament experience. "We were all new to it and all our stomachs were tossing and turning and we were all excited. We are a little more mature. We know what to expect this time and we are just going to go out there and try to win."
Stew Morrill's team is one of the best in the nation defensively, holding opponents to 56.8 points per game and 38.7 percent shooting from the field. Utah State allowed just four teams to score 70 or more points this season and held its last five opponents to 55 points or less, capped by its 50-38 victory over Pacific in the Big West tournament championship game Saturday.
Tony Brown and Curtis Bobb form a dangerous perimeter threat for the Aggies, having made a combined 140 3-pointers. Shawn Daniels, who leads the team in scoring at 11.9 points per game, is shooting 57.8 percent from the field.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Utah State - Automatic bid, Big West Conference tournament champion. Ohio State - At-large bid, Big Ten Conference.
ALL-TIME TOURNAMENT RECORD: Utah State - 5-15, 13 years. Ohio State -
36-19, 20 years.