Buckeye Veterans Carried the Day Against Irish
By Patrick Murphy
"Thank god, huh,” Thad Matta said at the end of October on Ohio State’s Media Day. “Two seniors! We've got two seniors this year!”
Before the season began, Matta was already excited about having a veteran team that featured two seniors and seven juniors; the most experienced roster of his tenure.
After Saturday night’s win, Matta was likely exclaiming something similar.
"I'm still trying to figure out what happened," he said in the postgame.
What happened was his juniors and seniors found themselves down by eight to Notre Dame with under a minute left before making a miraculous comeback to remain undefeated, and when it mattered the most, it was Ohio State’s most experienced players who stepped up.
After junior LaQuinton Ross’ layup cut the lead to 58-52 with 48 seconds remaining, junior Shannon Scott stole the ball and got the ball to senior Lenzelle Smith Jr. He faked the pass and drove to the basket for the layup and his first points of the game. The full-court press by Scott and senior Aaron Craft forced a turnover and Scott was fouled. Despite not being to the line all night, Scott made both free throws to cut the Irish lead to two. Notre Dame made two free throws before Smith found himself with the ball in the corner. He pump faked for the blow by and was fouled on his three-point attempt. Despite only seeing the ball go in the net once all night, most players would have issues at the line, but Smith knocked down all three attempts.
After Irish freshman Steve Vasturia missed the first of a one-and-one, Craft found Smith on the baseline with a great pass for the layup to take the lead.
Craft then knocked the ball off a Notre Dame player to all but seal the win for the Buckeyes.
Smith and Craft each stepped to the line, making three of four to get the improbable win.
"We never stopped,” Craft said. “We never gave up. Guys were running around getting tips and guys made big free throws."
The two seniors – with the help from juniors Ross and Scott – seized the moment and brought their team back from apparent defeat. They did not let the deficit or the moment affect them.
This type of situation is why Matta said he favors having experienced players over the one-and-done freshmen.
No matter the ability of the freshmen, the composure of players who have multiple Sweet Sixteen appearances and battled through Big Ten seasons is unmatched.
During Ohio State’s 14-3 run, experience took over. Smith scored all nine of his points. Craft made a free throw, had an important assist, and forced a turnover that allowed OSU to take the lead. Scott made two free throws and had two steals.
This Ohio State team is not Matta’s most talented, but experience will be their greatest strength. On this night, experience was the ultimate factor in a big win.
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