Foster basks in Buckeyes’ upset

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 14, 2005

of top-ranked

Illinois Sunday


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COLUMBUS, Ohio &045; Je’Kel Foster took in as much of the aftermath of Sunday’s monstrous upset of Illinois he could before everyone stormed the floor of Ohio State’s Value City Arena.

Then he left.

&uot;I got out of there as soon as I could,&uot; he admitted. &uot;I wasn’t used to that. I had to get out of there.&uot;

But two days later the former Natchez High standout can’t stop talking about, doesn’t want to stop talking about it and will let anyone who has a fully functioning ear know that his Buckeyes’ 65-64 upset of No. 1-ranked Illinois at home was something he’d never experienced in high school, junior college and quite possibly in youth league basketball.

His team ended mighty Illinois’ 29-game winning streak on the final day of the regular season in front of a sold-out crowd.

&uot;It was real crazy,&uot; said Foster, who had 10 points. &uot;We beat the No. 1 team. We played a tremendous game. Everybody played together. It was a good win for us. It was exciting (afterward). The fans &045; we have good support here. It was a great atmosphere.&uot;

The Buckeyes ended the Illini’s hopes of posting an undefeated regular season and trying to become the first team in NCAA history to run the tables on an entire season since Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers did it in 1975.

Foster got the start in that game, yet it was Matt Sylvester who finished it with a huge 3-pointer with 5.1 seconds left for the one-point win. The Buckeyes could have gone for the tie, but first-year head coach Thad Matta rolled the dice to go for it all with nothing to lose playing at their home floor.

Sylvester canned the shot just as it was drawn up, and Illinois couldn’t get a shot to fall before the buzzer.

&uot;We were in the huddle, and Coach told us, ‘We’re not going halfway. We’re going for the win,’&uot; Sylvester said afterward.

Said Matta: &uot;As we left the huddle, Matt said, ‘I’ll make the shot.’ And he did.&uot;

The triple capped a huge comeback for the Buckeyes, who were down 64-58 with 3:23 left when James Augustine put in a layup.

The Buckeyes put up a 7-0 run after that with Terence Dials coming up with a short jumper and Sylvester hitting a jumper to cut the lead to 64-62 at the 1:40 mark. Illinois’ Jeron Williams drove the lane on the other end with a shot, but Dials swatted it away into Foster’s hands to keep the Illini off the board.

That set up Sylvester’s shot at the end that set everyone in the arena into a frenzy and provided fodder for ESPN to run a countless number of times the next day.

&uot;Nobody had a doubt,&uot; Foster said. &uot;We believed we could get it done. We stuck together, and everything came together for us. We handled some of their key guys, and they didn’t get their usual game. We did pretty well (defensively). We tried to contain them.

&uot;Everybody helped each other. Everybody believed. It was just a feeling that’s hard to explain. I had a feeling I never had before in my life that we were going to get the job done, and I think everybody on my team had that same feeling. We believed in ourselves and came out with a win.&uot;

The win put the biggest positive spin possible on a season up until Sunday was somewhat for naught. The school’s administration banned the team from the postseason following possible NCAA violations that surfaced under former head coach Jim O’Brien’s tutelage.

While the Buckeyes open the Big 10 tournament Thursday in Chicago as the No. 6 seed and matched against No. 11 seed Penn State, there is no NCAA tournament to shoot for. But Foster and the Buckeyes are still playing hard.

&uot;We’ve faced a lot of adversity,&uot; he said. &uot;We’re playing for pride around here. We just play the game the way other teams would. I know we’re not going to the tournament. We’re trying to spoil things for other teams. It doesn’t really matter who we play. We’re just worried about Ohio State right now. We’ll take care of what we can take care.&uot;

The tournament may be another opportunity for Foster to keep improving as a player who will suit up for next year’s tournament-eligible squad. In his first season out of Chipola College, Foster has appeared in each of the Buckeyes’ 30 games and started his 10th game Sunday.

He’s averaging just under eight points a game, but he’s leading the team in steals with 43. He’s nailed a triple in 24 games this season, including one at the buzzer against LSU to send the game into overtime.

&uot;I guess I’m getting good enough playing time,&uot; he said. &uot;Anybody can start, but it’s who finishes the game. That’s what matters. I just keep playing hard and let the coach make the decision as far as playing time.&uot;