It Wasn’t Enough, but Buckeyes Showed Heart in Second-Half Rally
By Brandon Castel
LOS ANGELES — There wasn’t much joy in the Ohio State locker room Saturday night.
No one cared who was sitting in the place where Kobe Bryant changes his sneakers.
Sophomore Shannon Scott sat quietly in the corner, a white towel draped over his head, shielding his face from the cameras and recorders surrounding most of his teammates.
There were tears.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Deshaun Thomas had them in his eyes as he walked to the postgame press conference, possibly for the last time as a Buckeye. Freshman Amedeo Della Valle couldn’t fight his back either.
It wasn’t the finish this team expected, certainly not what they had hoped for when they boarded a plane to Los Angeles earlier this week. This was supposed to be a season of destiny, despite the fact this team lost one of the most consistent post players in the country from last year’s Final Four roster.
It wasn’t supposed to end with a loss, at least not yet. Not like this. Not to a Wichita State team most people had losing to Pitt in the first round of the tournament. Not in a game where the Buckeyes trailed by 20 points.
“They came out swinging and we didn’t,” a disappointed Aaron Craft said after missing 10 of his 12 shots against the upstart Shockers.
“We never really caught our balance until it was too late. They came out and executed their stuff and made big shots and big plays when they needed to. We just didn’t.”
Not until it was too late.
For the second game in a row, the Buckeyes got off to a horrendous start offensively. Only this time Deshaun Thomas wasn’t able to carry them until they could get their feet under them. Ohio State’s leading-scorer misfired on his first five shots Saturday, and the Buckeyes saw a 13-13 game quickly spiral into a 27-16 lead for Wichita State.
“We weren't able in the first half to draw the line and get the stops, get the bucket when we needed,” OSU head coach Thad Matta said.
“You’re not going to win in the Elite Eight shooting 24 percent in the first half.”
The Buckeyes fell behind by 12 against Arizona in the first half of Thursday night’s Sweet Sixteen game, but they were able to battle back to make it a four-point game at the half. A three by Thomas in the final minute gave OSU some momentum, but the Buckeyes simply weren’t able to generate anything against Wichita State’s fierce resistance in the first half.
“The first half definitely didn’t put us in a good situation, and the second half didn’t start out very hot either,” Craft said.
“But we fought. I’m very proud of the team. We fought and we clawed.”
Photo by Jim Davidson
The Buckeyes were down 13 at the break. Matta’s message to the team was to make a run in the first 5-10 minutes of the second half to put them within striking distance for the stretch run.
That didn’t happen.
Ohio State actually fell further behind, letting the Wichita State lead blossom to 20 points before the under-12 media timeout in the second half. The Buckeyes were on the ropes. They looked rattled, and their play resembled that of a team ready to pack it in and call it a night.
That’s exactly what they would have done a few weeks ago.
“We probably wouldn’t have done this a few months ago,” Craft admitted.
“We got back into it, but they made some key plays.”
Before tonight, Ohio State’s last loss came back on February 17. They were 18-7 at the time, and after trailing at Wisconsin by 17 points at the half, the Buckeyes left Madison with their tails between their legs.
It was a 22-point butt whipping, but that loss served as a wakeup call for the Buckeyes. They were going to need their very best every night, and for 11 games, that’s exactly what Matta and his coaches got from them.
“We definitely battled,” junior Lenzelle Smith said.
“Coming from being 18-7, we definitely turned it around and righted our ship. Unfortunately the season is only going to end the way you want it to for one team.
“Unfortunately we’re not that team right now.”
They got pretty close, though. Close enough to make Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall a little frantic as he saw his team’s 20-point lead slipping away in the second half.
Ohio State went on a 14-4 run over a span of 7:30 to make it a 10-point game with 4:32 to play. The previously subdued OSU crowd roared to life inside the Staples Center, as Thomas cut the lead to single digits with a tip-in at the offensive end.
A three by LaQuinton Ross, probably the surprise of this year’s NCAA Tournament, cut it down to seven. A pair of free throws from Ross made it a five-point game with 3:13 to play, and Shannon Scott hit a couple of big freebies to bring Ohio State all the way back to a one-possession game.
“I’m proud of the way our guys came back, dug down,” Matta said. “We put ourselves in a position to have a chance to win the basketball game.”
They just didn’t have quite enough in the tank to come all the way back, especially with Wichita State making the key plays it needed to hold over the final three minutes of the game.
“We got fighters on this team and we’re going to fight to the last horn,” Lenzelle Smith said.
“Unfortunately, the deficit of the points didn’t balance out for us. We were down by too much. We cut it, kept chopping and chopping, fighting and clawing to tie the game up, but they kept playing as well.”
Sophomore Tekele Cotton probably made the two biggest plays of the game. He hit the three to push Wichita State’s lead back to six after those free throws from Scott. He also came up with the biggest rebound of the game in the final minute.
There just wasn’t enough time on the clock for the Buckeyes, who had hoped to turn Cinderella’s carriage back into a pumpkin.
“As I told these guys, you get so close to going to your second straight Final Four and everybody remembers the last game,” Matta said.
“I'm not going to. I'm going to remember this season, because I'm very, very proud of what these guys have accomplished this year.”
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