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November 28, 2012

Matta wants Duke-level success at Ohio State

Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- In its 113-year history of playing basketball, Ohio State has never taken a team to Durham, N.C. to face Duke. But that doesn't mean that the Buckeyes will be absent of any experience inside of Cameron Indoor Stadium when they square off with the Blue Devils in tonight's ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

Most will remember recently that OSU video coordinator Greg Paulus played point guard for Duke from 2006-2009, or even that Buckeyes center Evan Ravenel faced the Blue Devils on a regular basis before transferring to Ohio State from the ACC's Boston College. But few will recall the last time that Thad Matta faced Duke on its home court.

Even the 45-year-old OSU head coach doesn't remember everything about that game.

Then an assistant coach at Western Carolina, Matta last faced Duke in Durham on Dec. 20, 1995. The Catamounts actually hung with the Blue Devils until the end of the first half, trailing by a score of 31-30, but went on to lose the game 107-67.

How did the once one-point game turn into a 40-point route? Matta's not exactly sure.

"I still remember this today, it was 28-28," the now 45-year-old OSU head coach recalled. "I like blacked out and woke up and it was like 62-30."

Seventeen years after Duke blew out Matta's WCU squad behind the star power of Jeff Capel, the No. 2-ranked Blue Devils still possess the ability to turn a two-point lead into a 20-point one in the blink of an eye. Since Duke finished that 1995-96 season with a record of 18-13, the Blue Devils have only once finished a season with double-digit losses, winning two national titles in that timespan.

It's the type of success that head coach Mike Krzyzewski has found in Durham, where he has compiled 860 of his NCAA record 933 wins, that Matta envies, and hopes to one day bring to Columbus.

"They've stood the test of time," Matta said of Duke. "I hope in 25 years, our program's still at the level that it is, because that's exactly what Duke has done."

Having spent 31 years as the Blue Devils' head coach, Krzyzewski has a 22-year head start on what Matta's been able to build thus far in his nine years at OSU. Since taking over the Duke program in 1980, 'Coach K' has won four national championships, appeared in 11 Final Fours, and has won 79 tournament games- the most in NCAA history.

Matta isn't ashamed to say that it's his goal to turn the OSU program into one that resembles that of the team that it will face on Wednesday night. And with two Final Four appearances, five Big Ten championships, and seven NBA first round picks under Matta's watch, the currently No. 4-ranked Buckeyes appear to moving in the right direction.

"There's been a lot of great players roll through there and if you start looking back at what we've had here, we've had a lot of great players," Matta said. "They recruit at the highest level, we attempt to recruit at the highest level."

Despite what he's been able to achieve in his comparatively short time in Columbus, Matta knows that Ohio State still isn't the same type of historically revered basketball program that Krzyzewski has created in Durham. But given the growing number of banners inside the Schottenstein Center and resources of the university, it isn't far-fetched to think that the Buckeyes could one day create the same memories- or non-memories- for coaches on a consistent basis, like the Blue Devils did for Matta 17 years ago.

"When I got here, I looked at the Duke's, the North Carolina's, the Kentucky's, and the one thing that is common is they weren't built in five years, they were built over decades," Matta said. "You look at the job that Coach K has done there in building that program over time, and standing the test of time, that's to me, what separates their program."



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