Tournament Tales: Chris Jent

As the Cavaliers continue their surge towards the NBA’s second season, their collegiate counterparts are rapidly approaching the pinnacle of March Madness – the Final Four – this weekend.

Several members of the Cavaliers family have been fortunate enough to play in the NCAA Tournament, and we’ve brought some of their stories to life in Tournament Tales. We’ve gotten the Tourney lowdown from Boobie Gibson, Wally Szczerbiak and Assistant Coach John Kuester. We even talked a little NIT with Tarence Kinsey.

Today, we turn once again to the Cavaliers’ coaching ranks and sharpshooting former Buckeye, Chris Jent – who helped take the 1992 Buckeyes to the Elite Eight before dropping a 75-71 overtime heartbreaker to the hated Michigan Wolverines and their famous “Fab Five.”

Top-seeded Ohio State – led by Jent, Jimmy Jackson and St. Joseph’s standout, Treg Lee – clubbed Mississippi Valley State in the opener, hammered UConn in the second round and topped the Tar Heels by eight before their meeting with Michigan.

The Cavaliers trusted assistant – and one of the team’s and league’s nicest all-around guys – talks about that Buckeye squad’s Tournament run back in 1992 …

Coming from New Jersey, how did you choose Ohio State?

Chris Jent: It was a long process; I had been recruited for a long time. I liked the feel of the people and the other guys that were going there. I got to meet some of them before making a decision. Mark Baker, Jamaal Brown. So, it was just what (OSU) was trying to do; the class before with Treg (Lee) and Perry (Carter). It looked like they were up to good things in the near future.

A lot of Big East schools were probably pretty close, but Georgia Tech is where I wanted to go to school when I was a sophomore. But they signed Dennis Scott the year before I was about to graduate. And I thought, ‘Man it’s going to be tough for him and I both to play as shooters out there on the floor.’ And ironically enough, when I got to Ohio State, they told me I was going to play small forward. And I thought: ‘I don’t want to play small forward, I’m a shooting guard.’ (Laughs.) And they made me a four.

So I was originally looking to go to Georgia Tech, but it was such a great visit to OSU’s campus.

To get to the Elite Eight, OSU had to go through a pair of NCAA heavyweights – UConn and North Carolina. What was that like?

Jent: Well, the UConn game, we were getting our butts kicked in the first half; we were down like 16 at halftime. They had (Scott) Burrell, Rod Sellers, Chris Smith. I remember Donyell Marshall was a freshman that year.

We were in there at halftime, looking around like, “Fellas! We have to get it together.” And we went on to win that one by about 26. We had a great second half.

We were playing in Cincinnati and it was pretty much an all-Ohio State crowd. I just remember walking off the bus when we got to Lexington – it was pretty incredible: just a sea of red. And before we left, people greeted us at the bus before we were even leaving for the airport. There were thousands of people waiting for us when we made that short walk out of St. John’s Arena onto the bus. It was really special.

In the Sweet 16, we ended up beating North Carolina by eight. It was a good game; a tight game. I think we led by two or three at the half. But really it was just a well-played game.

Let’s talk Michigan – who you now meet in the Elite Eight. Is there an innate dislike between the schools in basketball, too?

Jent: I think there’s that dislike, just because of the schools that you represent. But I think it was the hype that group – the Fab Five – came in with.

That was our league at that point in time. And obviously we were in strong competition with other teams in the Big Ten. But we thought of it as being our year. And all the focus was on them. So we said, we’re going to show them what’s going on. They had the swagger and all that. We felt like we were a better team and we were going to prove it through the course of the year, and we did prove it during that season.

What about the tales of Chris Webber talking trash to you before that game?

Jent: (Laughs) He did say something to me, but it wasn’t like he chested me up and said something to me.

There were a lot of things being said; a lot of trash talking going on. It was actually pretty low-key, but yeah, he said something to me about not scoring. And I probably said the same thing back to him. We were going back and forth.

Talk about that overtime loss to Michigan.

Jent: It was disappointing; just a big letdown. I was disappointed in my effort. As a team, I just didn’t think we played well.

In spurts, we struggled during the course of the year and we had some meetings on the road. I remember before the Illinois game, midway through the year, we got together and said ‘we’re not playing the way we should be as a team.’ So we had had some battles that year, as far as clicking. But I thought that at the end of the year, being the experienced team that we’d just find a way to get it done.

Thing is, we’d kicked their butt the first time we’d seen them, even though that was really early in the Big Ten schedule – maybe the third or fourth game. I think they scored under 20 points on us in the first half. Our defense was smothering. And we beat them handily at home. Both games we won convincingly – it wasn’t like it was nip-and-tuck.

Were you at least glad that Duke trounced Michigan by 20 in the Championship game?

Jent: Even though Bobby Hurley – one of my best friends at that point in my life – was playing in that game, I didn’t watch. I didn’t watch any more of the NCAA Tournament. Being a college athlete, you might think I’m lying. But, man, I didn’t even look at the TV – I was so angry.

So, let’s just say I was glad Michigan didn’t go on to win the Championship – that’s for sure.