BUFFALO, N.Y. - Thursday was a tough day for the state of Ohio in the NCAA Tournament with Ohio State and Cincinnati both losing after Xavier lost in the first four games earlier in the week. The Buckeyes just had "one of those seasons" in 2013-14, started off as one of the nation's top teams and climbed to No. 3 in the major polls and also found themselves unranked and out of the poll, and all points in-between.
The Buckeyes trailed by as many as eight points against the Dayton Flyers on Thursday only for Ohio State to battle back and take a lead late in the second half. Aaron Craft made a spectacular shot with less than 20 seconds left to give Ohio State the lead but Vee Sanford answered immediately with five seconds left and Craft could not get his last shot to go.
"I didn't shoot it hard enough, that is how our season has gone," Craft said. "We have been right there 10 times and this is just another one of those where we were right there and couldn't do it."
Losing close games has just been a calling card for this team in 2014. Close losses however have been something that have plagued the Buckeyes in the postseason during Craft's entire career in the scarlet and gray.
"We lost by nine points total in my four NCAA tournament losses," Craft said. "Two points (Kentucky), two points (Kansas), four points (Wichita State) and now one point (Dayton). So those are all one possession, two possession games. That is the most frustrating part, we didn't value possessions early in the game, we didn't value possessions in the second half and we didn't have it."
The Buckeyes are not taking anything away from the Flyers and it took a great shot by Sanford to give Dayton the lead and eventual win.
"We made them, as they made us make a tough shot, we made them make a tough shot and it is just one of those plays that, give them credit, they got the ball up on the backboard and it went in for them," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said.
Craft took the loss particularly hard, in 2013 he was able to hit the game-winner against Iowa State (in Dayton, Ohio of all places) and it appeared that he had a chance for history to repeat itself in some measure. But the efforts of the team in the previous 39-plus minutes put them in a position where they needed to pull one out at the end instead of playing a game within their system and not needing an attempt at late heroics.
"We put ourselves in a position to win and we couldn't make the plays down the stretch, they punched more than we did," Craft said. "Gave it a good shot at the end and had an opportunity, couldn't do it."
Will he stay or will he go?
LaQuinton Ross could have played his final game for the Buckeyes with the loss to Dayton and while his 10 point outing was not one of his best, Ross played some solid basketball down the stretch and struggled with the decision to stay or go after last season.
Ross does not project as a first-rounder according to many of the draft experts and a route through Europe or the NBDL could be in order for the junior basketball player. Ross was not ready to make any sort of announcement just moments after the game and needs some time to think things through.
"I have no idea right now," Ross said. "I will sit down with my family and my coaches and go from there."
Matta said that in the coming weeks they will have that discussion.
"I think the thing you have to do is do the research," Matta said. "I always want what is best for our guys from the standpoint that if it is right then I will be the first to tell him to go. But I think he has got to sit down and look at it, he's capable of coming back here and having a great senior year if he were to choose to do that."
Both Jared Sullinger and William Buford each opted to come back one more season (Sullinger for a sophomore year and Buford for a senior season) but different things went into everyone's decisions.
"Jared knew what he was coming back to with a great system for them," Ross said. "The year that Will came back, they brought in our class so they knew they were going to have players around them. I will sit down and talk to my coaches and see what they say, see what my family says and go from there."
Tough loss for Smith
This also was a final game for Lenzelle Smith, Jr. and it was not the way that Ohio State's second leading scorer for 2014 wanted to go out. The last three games were tough on Smith from a production standpoint and it is going to be tough for Smith to get over this loss.
"We lost to Dayton, I am not going to be able to let that go, not as easy as losing last year to go back to the Final Four, we lost in the first round," Smith said.
Ohio State's game was the first game of the second round of the tournament and they were the first team on Thursday to lose and it will be tough for the players to enjoy the rest of the tournament wondering what could have been.
"It just really sucks, a lot of basketball left to be played and never would I have imagined that we wouldn't be in this, definitely not in my senior year," Smith said.