First Thoughts From Ohio State's 70-66 Loss to Wichita State in the NCAA Tournament
By Tony Gerdeman
Cinderella is basically a procedural mystery which follows Prince Charming's search for the identity of his unknown dance partner. He doesn't know the secrets that Cinderella is hiding. All he knows is that she's good looking, cuts a mean rug, and she has a unique taste in shoes.
He hasn't seen her warts (figurative). He's never been around her when she isn't dolled up for a gala, and he especially hasn't seen the way she can spend three straight days in a robe and not see a problem with it.
However, even if he had seen all of these things, the way that she looked at The Ball would have made him forget those bad times anyway. After all, things are best when they are at their best.
Yet midnight comes for us all, and on Saturday night it came for the Buckeyes. They were the real Cinderellas in this game. Prince Charming tried putting a slipper on Wichita State, but the Shockers' feet were too busy making repeated kicking motions.
Even though the Buckeyes looked much differently over the last six weeks, this was still the same team that was 18-7 at one point; back when they were searching for scorers like cartoon ants looking for a picnic.
Yes, midnight finally struck for the Buckeyes, but that doesn't mean the dance was a failure. It just means that some teams have an earlier curfew.
Quite the Balancing Act. I thought Thad Matta's high-octane coaching in the second half was tremendous. Balancing foul trouble and offense/defense substitutions, all the while trying to implore his team to continue taking the fight forward was heroic. It was like watching a plate-spinning act on the Ed Sullivan Show, and involving fire somehow. Or watching a Youtube of it, anyway.
For all of the grief that Matta gets from a few loud and frustrated fans, this season was probably the best coaching job of his career. The team that you saw on the court tonight – the one with the scrolling screeds of sprawling flaws – was the same team that somehow won 29 games this year.
Assumptions Are Bad. I bet if you went into this game thinking that the Buckeyes were a virtual lock for the Final Four, it doesn't lessen your anger at the team for doing the exact same thing.
I don't think Ohio State thought this game would be that hard. They seemed to think their jerseys and their seeding had done most of the prep work and all they needed to do was come in and flash a couple of smiles and that would be it. They were clearly wrong.
I also didn't expect them to take punch after punch after punch for over 30 minutes of play before finally mounting a comeback.
The Buckeyes couldn't get any breaks in this game until they started creating them over the final 10 minutes, and even then they were still making mistakes. They still had too many turnovers down the stretch when they should have been valuing the basketball like a father watching his high school daughter as she enters a school as its first female student.
The Buckeyes spent most of this game rattled. They eventually saddled the Shockers with that rattle, but it was too little and a tad too late. Wichita State had enough of a lead to play rattled for a few minutes. It was almost enough for Ohio State, but this isn't horseshoes, and despite the giant crater left in your brackets, this isn't hand grenades either.
The Perfect Storm. As is usually the case for the Buckeyes when they lose in the NCAA Tournament, their shooting left them completely. Unfortunately for them, their defense then went looking for the shooting, and both were lost for nearly the entire game.
You have to credit Wichita State for utilizing the perfect game plan against the Buckeyes. It was like head coach Gregg Marshall went and asked a Buckeye fan what their nightmare scenario would be for this game, and when they told him he said, "Great, let's do that!" And then they did.
The Shockers have forced everybody to shoot poorly so far in the Tournament, but it wasn't their stifling defense that did the Buckeyes in this time, it was simply a tight, smart defense. They allowed Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott to shoot, and they went a combined 4-19 from the field. Until they are better shooters, a jumper from either of those two on most nights is going to lead to an empty possession. It was a great gameplan by Marshall.
Wichita State's other big ploy was to simply hope that Deshaun Thomas finally had an off night, which he did. He finished 0-6 from three-point range. He was 4-13 from the field in the first half, and the Buckeyes were fighting against the tide for the rest of the game because of it.
The first half of this game was played by the Buckeye team that went 18-7, not 11-0. Sam Thompson had zero shots, LaQuinton Ross had four points, and Aaron Craft was 1-6 from the field. It was an old familiar foe for the Buckeyes– themselves.
Quick Thoughts. Wichita State was playing off of Craft early, so he took some early perimeter shots, even making a three, in hopes that they would play up on him tighter, but they simply (and wisely) refused. I'll go back to my standard lifelong opinion that perimeter players who struggle to shoot do so because of lack of practice. We can chalk this year up to a different stroke for Craft, but if this team is going to reach its potential, it can't do it with a point guard who is a perimeter liability. It's never worked for the Buckeyes. It didn't work for Mark Baker, it didn't work for Michael Conley, and it hasn't worked for Aaron Craft. ... The same goes for Shannon Scott, by the way. ... I wonder what this game would have looked like had LaQuinton Ross played more minutes in the first half. Of course, he was also on the court when the Shockers were stretching the game out to a 20-point lead. ... Still, it's seriously impressive to watch him rattle off 7, 8, 10 points in a row as he has done in this Tournament. He will be even better next year, obviously, and don't be surprised if he adds a little assistiness to his game as well. ... I'm still a little surprised at how panicked the Buckeyes were in the first half of this game. They were already flailing with 25 minutes left to play. No matter how many times Thad Matta asked his team to calm down, they just couldn't do it. ... At least they closed the game in an entertaining fashion. Though I'm sure it also left Buckeye fans with the words, "Where was that the first 30 minutes?" bouncing around in their angry brains. ... I believe that even had they won this game, Ohio State's season wasn't going to get past next Saturday. But as it was pointed out to me on Twitter, that brings little solace when you consider that there are no banners for Elite Eight appearances. ... I'll be honest, I was guilty of looking past Wichita State as well. Though the penalties for me doing so are much less harsh. ... If you think about it, this was probably the only way that this season could have ended. They struggled with the basics of the sport, and then spent the last 25% of the game looking like the best thing going. It was a microcosm of the season. I've said many times that the Buckeyes only needed to shoot well for six games. They topped out at three.
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