I have never seen a better 40 minute metaphor for a team’s entire season than Ohio State’s effort against Kansas on Saturday. In one evening we witnessed the tantalizing potential this team has flirted with all year, as well as the mind numbingly frustrating style of play that led to Thad Matta kicking his own team out of practice in February.
In what was a rematch from a game in December (in case you were living under a rock the past week and didn’t hear 7,789 times – the Bucks didn’t have Jared Sullinger last time), the Scarlet and Gray came out with their hair on fire. The Buckeyes leapt out to a double digit lead and seemed to be in control of the game, tempo, and eventual outcome.
We were all fooled. The deflating end to the first half, which cut the deficit to single digits for the first time in awhile, was an ominous sign of things to come.
Everything that could have gone wrong in the second half seemingly did. There was foul trouble (Deshaun Thomas), more turnovers than assists, and the return of black hole Sullinger who likes to wait for the double team and throw up shot attempts into brick walls of defense (resulting in a 5-19 performance) and ultimately blame the officiating.
Who would have thought that William Buford, the lone senior who was at times the target of so much dissent among parts of Buckeye Nation, was the one factor that went the Buckeyes’ way in the second half? Honestly, he should have been the one shooting the ball down the stretch. Buford led the team in scoring, despite taking fewer shots than Sully, Thomas, and even Aaron Craft. Are you kidding me?
And after putting on his own personal exhibition in the tournament’s first four games, Deshaun Thomas regressed back to his freshman year ways Saturday, forcing 14 shots (and only making three, including a 1-7 effort from downtown), not playing in the flow of the game, and frankly, displaying a selfish brand of basketball.
Look, Thad Matta has done a lot of great things for the Ohio State program, and his accomplishments are often overlooked. But what do the Bucks even do in the locker room at halftime? For the second time in the last three NCAA Tournament games, the Buckeyes had a solid lead at the break and then seemed to go through the motions out of the tunnel, allowing the opposition back into the game. This time, Matta’s bunch wasn’t playing against an inferior Cincinnati team, and it came back to bite them.
As long as we are on the topic of Matta, where was Sam Thompson in the second half? I’m not asking for him to play ten minutes down the stretch, but he provided crucial energy and defense in the first half, rebounded, and even swatted three blocks. He couldn’t have at least seen the court for a couple of minutes in the second half to try to help stop the bleeding?
Despite my (and I’m assuming your) frustrations, this was ultimately a great year for Ohio State basketball. I think if someone would have told any of us that the Buckeyes would be playing in the Final Four back in February, we would have been overjoyed (and perhaps more than a bit skeptical). It was Ohio State’s 11th trip to the Final Four (ignore the NCAAs best efforts to zap the 1999 season from your mind, Men in Black style), and the second under Matta.
This was a special team, and the way it bounced back from its late season struggles and found a way to make it to college basketball’s finest stage is certainly commendable. As much as it hurts now, this squad will be remembered fondly for years to come among Buckeye basketball fans.
I wish I could say the near future looks bright. But, I’m not really sure that I can at this point. Buford (yes, he was incredibly inconsistent, but you can’t deny what he has meant for the program), almost surely Sullinger, and probably Thomas (even though it would be a monumental error in judgment on his part in my opinion) are leaving. What’s more, this year’s highly touted freshmen class didn’t get much of a chance to develop (heaven forbid they got more playing time against the cupcakes in November and December).
But rest assured, while it may take some time, the Buckeyes will be back. For now, let’s just turn our attention to Urban Meyer, Braxton Miller, and the Silver Bullets. The spring game’s only a couple weeks away.
And at least we didn’t lose in the first round to Ohio.