March 30, 2013

Ohio State's strange season comes to an end

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham



LOS ANGELES -- To steal a phrase from the Grateful Dead, what a long, strange trip it's been.



A season that started nearly five months with a condensation-caused cancellation came to an end on Saturday, when the Ohio State basketball team (29-8, 13-5) suffered a 70-66 loss at the hands of Wichita State (30-8, 12-6) in the Elite Eight. The Buckeyes' final defeat brought closure to one of the most unique- if not bizarre- seasons in program history.



It began- or was supposed to begin- on Nov. 9 in Charleston, S.C., where Ohio State's matchup with Marquette in the Carrier Classic was canceled due to excessive condensation. From there, the Buckeyes recorded a 10-2 out-of-conference record, but lost their only two games against teams from major conferences in Duke and Kansas.



The Buckeyes bounced back with a 70-44 win over Nebraska in their Big Ten opener, but just three days they suffered a setback with a 74-55 loss at the hands of Illinois in Champaign.



"I don't know what happened in terms of where we were," Matta said of his team's defeat at the hands of the Fighting Illini.



OSU enjoyed a signature win over No. 2 Michigan on Jan. 13, a week before suffering a heartbreaking loss at Michigan State in East Lansing. But it wasn't until Feb. 17 that the Buckeyes' season hit its turning point.



After losing back-to-back games to Michigan and Indiana, and picking up a win over Northwestern, the Buckeyes endured their worse loss in more than three years when Wisconsin dominated them from start to finish in a 71-49 mauling in Madison. Knocked back to fifth place in the Big Ten standings, hope was fleeting for Ohio State, entering the final month of the regular season.



But rather than stay down, the Buckeyes picked themselves up an won. And then they kept winning. All in all, Ohio State won its final five regular season games, and found itself in the hunt for the Big Ten title on the final day of the season.



"We clicked at the right time," OSU forward Deshaun Thomas said. "That's what's good about this team. We knew we had to sacrifice for it and we did that."



Ultimately, it was Indiana who claimed the league championship, but it was the Buckeyes momentum that carried into tournament time.



Behind the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, point guard Aaron Craft, Ohio State won the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago, defeating Nebraska, Michigan State, and Wisconsin in the span of three days. The win over the Badgers signaled a complete turnaround from the beat down that the Buckeyes suffered just one month prior.



"I've never been prouder of a basketball team than I am of these guys," Matta said at the time.



With the conference tournament title in tow, the Buckeyes earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and then packed their bags for Dayton for the West Regional's opening weekend.



After breezing by Iona in the second round, Ohio State's third round matchup with No. 10 Iowa State came down to the wire, with the score tied at 75 with 29 seconds remaining in regulation. Overtime wasn't necessary, however, as Craft hit a buzzer-beater three-point shot to send the Buckeyes to their fourth consecutive Sweet 16.



"I didn't feel nervous," Craft said. "Every kid dreams of moments like that."



Ohio State's Sweet 16 matchup with Arizona also came down to Craft making a game-winning play, although this time it was a pass rather than a shot. With the score tied at 70, the Buckeyes point guard fed sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross for a successful three-point shot, with just two seconds remaining in the game.



"This is what every player grows up looking at on TV and wants to hit that big shot, wants to win the game and hit the big shot in the NCAA Tournament or the NBA," Ross said. "It just feels great to be here right now."



That brings us to Saturday, where No. 9 seed Wichita State stood between the Buckeyes and a second consecutive Final Four appearance. But rather than roll past the Shockers, Ohio State fell victim to the upset, falling to WSU by a score of 70-66.



The Shockers led by as many as 20 points, taking advantage of the problems that have plagued the Buckeyes throughout the season: outside shooting and interior defense. As it has all season, Ohio State fought back to bring WSU's lead to just three in the final minutes of the game. Ultimately though, it was too little too late.



But rather than leaving Los Angeles with a sour taste in his mouth from the loss, Matta is choosing to a take a bigger perspective approach to his remembrance of the 2012-13 Ohio State basketball season.



"I'm proud of the way our guys came back, dug down," Matta said. "Everybody remembers the last game. I'm not going to. I'm going to remember this season, because I'm very proud of what these guys have accomplished this year."







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