Home > Illinois basketball > Former Buckeye Matt Sylvester hopes Illini don’t revenge his 6-year-old dagger

Former Buckeye Matt Sylvester hopes Illini don’t revenge his 6-year-old dagger

Matt Sylvester knows to steer clear of Champaign.

“I’d probably have a hit on my head or something like that,” Sylvester said. “But, hey, I have my fans here in Columbus, so I know my territory.”

The former Ohio State forward may have been the unlikeliest of Illini killers. It was he – not Alando Tucker (Wisconsin), Maurice Ager (Michigan State), Pierre Piece (Iowa) or Bracey Wright (Indiana) – who put an end to Illinois’ dreams of an unblemished regular season during the 2004-05 finale.

Sylvester, a reserve for the Buckeyes, poured in career-high points 23, 24 and 25 – eight better than his previous career high – from the right wing with 5.1 seconds remaining to lead the Buckeyes to a 65-64 upset of No. 1 Illinois during that fateful March 6, 2005, afternoon at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio.

“Every dog has his day,” Sylvester said Thursday on the “Tay and Jay Show”on 93.5, 95.3 ConnectFM. “What can I say? Everyone gets lucky.

“That was obviously the career highlight for me,” added Sylvester, who hit another game-winner against a highly-ranked LSU squad during his senior season. “Numbers-wise, I didn’t have the best career, but I had some great moments.”

Sylvester’s clutch three ended what most thought at that point would be a 30-0 regular season for an Illini team led by Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head. In fact, The (Champaign, Ill.) News-Gazette printed a photo mosaic within the numbers “30-0” as part of a preview story for the Illinois-Ohio State game.

Ohio State coach Thad Matta, a Hoopeston, Ill., native, caught word of the newspaper graphic and posted it as bulletin board motivation for his then 18-12 team, Sylvester said.

It worked.

The Buckeyes overcame a 51-39 deficit with 11:34 remaining. Brown, Head and Williams didn’t make a field goal in the final 17:08 of the game and shot a combined 7 of 27 for 27 points.

“That particular game we thought we were going to get our butts kicked, I’ll be honest with you,” Sylvester said. “I think that Illinois team was head and shoulders more talented than we were but on that night Illinois they had an off night, they really did. They had a lot of pressure on them that game, and we didn’t. We played loosey goosey and the stars aligned right and we got the W.”

Now, the roles are reversed.

Ohio State enters the Assembly Hall on Saturday as the top-ranked team in the country, sporting a perfect 19-0 record. The 23rd-ranked Illini (14-5), coming off a 71-62 win over 17th-ranked Michigan State, give Sylvester cause to worry they may revenge his dagger six years after the fact.

“I’m really scared for the Buckeyes,” Sylvester said. “I don’t want to say scared, but I’m nervous because unlike when Illinois came into Ohio State in ’05 and we were an unranked team and no one knew about us. Ohio State knows what they’re walking into and that’s a good Illini team, a very well-coached team. Champaign’s going to be an extremely tough place to play. The Orange Krush will be going nuts. I think it’s going to be a tough game. I really, really like Illinois this year.”

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Categories: Illinois basketball
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