By Matt McCoy
The Buckeyes have made significant runs in the NCAA tournament in recent years....but not in 2014. Ohio State's season came to an abrupt end with a 60-59 loss to Dayton in the round of 64 in Dayton. Vee Sanford of the Flyers, guarded by Big Ten defensive player of the year Aaron Craft, banked in a runner with 3.9 seconds left to put Dayton ahead. Craft rushed up the floor and muscled up a shot in the lane that rolled off the rim as the buzzer sounded. It ended the Buckeye season and ended Craft's storied career.
"It's amazing the way that defense has kind of been my thing and it's amazing how it's going to end with a kid hitting a game winner on me," Craft said. "There's so many things going through my mind that I wish could have gone differently, but they didn't. He made big shot."
Craft finished with 16 points. Sam Thompson led all scorers with 18 but LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State's lead scorer this season, finished with only 10 and committed five turnovers.
Ohio State trailed by as many as eight early in the second half but battled back to take the lead, but like so many games this season, they were unable to make the plays down the stretch to close it out.
"That's kind of been this team this year," Thad Matta said. "You have 10 losses on the season and you've led nine of them in the second half...I wish I had the answer...I would have used it about a month ago."
Un Thad-Like Buckeyes
This Buckeye team had to be the most frustrating Matta has ever had. They were never once blown out. As Matta pointed out after the game, in 9 of the 10 losses, Ohio State had a lead in the second half. The one game it did not, at Indiana, the Buckeyes trailed by a single point with 7:00 left.
It's a really good group of guys who played hard and competed, but they were very difficult to watch. Nothing ever came easy for them -- especially offensively -- and the mental mistakes and blunders at critical moments were uncharacteristic of Matta coached teams.
Coming into this season, in his nine years at Ohio State, Matta had lost only eight games in which the Buckeyes held the lead with five minutes remaining in regulation. Ohio State lost five such games this year. (Iowa at home, at Nebraska, Penn State at home, Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament and Dayton).
Ohio State was 5-5 in its 10 games decided by four points or less. The Dayton game was the fifth such game in a row. The season ending loss to the Flyers was also the ninth time in the 2013-14 season that a shot in the final second of regulation or overtime determined the Buckeyes fate. Those nine do not include other close games such as last week's Big Ten Tournament win over Nebraska when Buckeyes took the lead for good in the final minute and ended up winning by four.
The bottom line---in the Thad Matta era, Buckeye teams have traditionally taken care of business in the close games...this team, even in close games they won, were shaky at best when it mattered most. It was puzzling for a veteran team and must have given Matta several gray hairs.
You'd like to think the crunch time play will improve next year, but with a senior class of Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson, Amir Williams, Trey McDonald and maybe LaQuinton Ross, blending with a talented group of freshmen, who knows.
The good news is, Matta is the coach and this year notwithstanding, his track record would suggest that he'll figure it out...even if he never did this year.
Here's the comments of Thad Matta, Aaron Craft and Sam Thompson after the loss.
And...here's the list of the nine "last second shot" Buckeye games this year...Ohio State went 4-5 in those heart-stoppers. Four of the games came in the last five of the season.
December 21 vs Notre Dame--Ohio State rallied from eight down in the final two minutes to win 64-61 but survived a 3-point shot at the buzzer by Jerian Grant that would have forced overtime.
January 7 at Michigan State--There were two different last second plays in this 72-68 overtime loss in East Lansing. The Buckeyes came back from 17 down and had a chance to win at the end of regulation. With the game tied, Shannon Scott made a steal and drove to the basket but his contested lay-up bounced off the rim and was batted away at the buzzer. At the end of overtime, with Michigan State leading by three, Marc Loving took an awkward 3-point attempt to tie but missed it badly. The Spartans Keith Appling was fouled on the rebound with less than one second left and hit a free-throw to make the final margin four.
January 29 vs. Penn State--This was another double-dose of buzzer activity for the Buckeyes and another loss. After Penn State's D.J. Newbill tied the game with a 3-pointer with 11 seconds left in regulation, Ohio State had a last shot to win. Lenzelle Smith missed a jumper, Scott rebounded near the basket but his put-back was no good as the buzzer sounded. In overtime, Penn State beat the Buckeyes 71-70 when Newbill slashed a jumper over Aaron Craft with two seconds left. Craft tried to get up a shot before the buzzer but could not.
February 1 at Wisconsin--Leading by one in the final seconds, Lenzelle Smith was alone in the front court but missed a lay-up. He secured the rebound, only to be bumped by Amir Williams and when Smith fell to the floor a travel was called. It gave Wisconsin a chance to win but Sam Dekker's 3-pointer at the buzzer was no good and the Buckeyes survived 58-57.
February 27 at Penn State--Trailing by two after Penn State's Tim Frazier split two free-throws, the Buckeyes rushed the ball up the floor and Shannon Scott found Lenzelle Smith open on the wing for what could have been a game winning 3-pointer but the shot came up short and the Buckeyes lost 65-63.
March 9 vs Michigan State--The Buckeyes went 2-for-8 from the free-throw line in the final 90 seconds, giving Michigan State several chances to win. Their final opportunity came after two foul-line misses by Sam Thompson but Gary Harris' jumper over Aaron Craft that could have tied it was no good. The Buckeyes won 69-67.
March 13 vs Purdue--The Buckeyes failed to secure a rebound on a missed free-throw with two seconds left, losing the ball out of bounds. It gave Purdue, trailing by two, one last shot to tie or win it. The Boilers went for the win but Terone Johnson's 3-pointer came up short. The Buckeyes won 65-63.
March 15 vs Michigan -- Ohio State rallied from a 16 point deficit and took the lead with five minutes to go but Michigan battled back in the closing minutes. Leading 72-69, the Wolverines Spike Albrecht missed a free-throw that would have iced the game with six seconds left. Aaron Craft rushed up the court and lifted to shoot a potential game tying 3-point shot but the ball slipped out of his hands and was batted away as the buzzer sounded.
March 20 vs Dayton -- Ohio State's season ends with a 60-59 loss to Dayton as Vee Sanford of the Flyers scored on a driving lay-up with 3.9 seconds left. Aaron Craft was able to get into the lane and put up a potential game winning shot but it rolled off the rim at the buzzer.