Buckeyes simply ran out of steam, health bodies having to play their fourth game in ten days…and they had to do it against a Houston team that just might get much farther in the tournament than anyone suspected.
Columbus – The probability is high that many years from now when these Ohio State basketball players return to The Schott with graying temples for reunions and such, not many will remember too much about them.
True Buckeyes followers still will be able to recite the starting lineup and even minute details from the season before, when the team came out of nowhere behind Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate to finish runner-up in the Big Ten and win 25 games.
They might fondly recall how the incoming recruiting class that is ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten turned the program into a monster.
But what about this bunch?
From the start, this Ohio State team was believed to be so-so and incapable of stirring the masses, and there were only two home crowd counts exceeding 18,000.
Yet they were like the little engine that could in getting to the top of the mountain in what turned out to be a pretty neat ride.
The Buckeyes season ended when greyhound-like Houston ran and ran and ran some more and dominated underneath the basket to come away with a 74-59 victory in a NCAA Midwest Regional game on Sunday night in the BOK Center in Tulsa.
These are good times for the “Sweet 16’’ bound Cougars. This is their deepest run in the tournament since 1984, when they lost to Georgetown and Patrick Ewing in the national championship game. They have won a team record 33 games.
But, let’s face it, how many would have predicted Ohio State (20-15) would be still playing the third week in March? How many thought its high water mark would be a spot in the NIT?
Center Kaleb Wesson was asked about next season, but chose to dwell in the present.
“We can talk about the future later when coach wants to,’’ he said. “This year, we showed people how much heart we had. We were counted out and down, but we came back.’’
Second-year coach Chris Holtmann said this team overcame more than any other he has coached.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been part of a team that had so many challenges and came out in a positive way,’’ he said. “I couldn’t be more proud of this group.’’
As Houston celebrated, the team at the other end of the scorer’s table looked like it had just run a marathon.
Graduate senior Keyshawn Woods was still gimpy from being tripped with nine minutes remaining. Sophomore forward Kyle Young and senior guard C.J. Jackson had already been regulars in the trainer’s room for months with a number of injuries that cost a lot of money in athletic tape to keep them in one piece.
Jackson and Woods were distraught sitting on the bench in the closing seconds seeing their college careers end.
This group didn’t contend for a championship, but the year 2019 will be added at the bottom of the banner celebrating the team’s number of NCAA tournament appearances.
There were so many hurdles, and although they scraped their knees time and again they cleared many of them.
Forty-eight hours before the opener at Cincinnati, they got a jolt when 6-foot-9 Micah Potter up and quit for what is believed to be a lack of playing time. He has transferred to Wisconsin.
The team was without Young for four games because of leg stress fracture. He was never same upon returning. He hardly practiced in order to take stress off the leg and had his minutes reduced on game day to save further wear and tear.
Jackson failed to reach double figures in scoring in seven of the last 10 games as shoulder and ankle miseries slowed him.
The biggest blow was Wesson being suspended three games for violating athletic department policy. The team lost every one of those games.
It also was a jab to the jaw when freshmen guards Luther Muhammad and Duane Washington went from being impact players to hitting the wall face first down the stretch.
Yet Ohio State snagged a No. 11 seed with an upset of Iowa in the next-to-last regular-season game and a victory over Indiana in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament that turned out to be a NCAA tournament elimination game.
The cherry on top turned out to be a first-round upset of sixth-seeded Iowa State on Friday.
The public raved about the job Holtmann did last season, but this season he might have done himself one better in somehow turning leftovers into a pretty good dish.
Houston was the fastest and most athletic team Ohio State played by leaps and bounds.
Yet the Buckeyes were in great shape with 11:44 left in the game after the second straight three-pointer by Jackson cut the deficit to 49-44.
Things began to unravel quickly when Wesson was called for his third foul 57 seconds later with an illegal screen.
Ohio State didn’t score a basket for 8 minutes, 17 seconds as the Cougars took a 64-53 on a dunk by Brison Gresham with 4:10 left to play.
“They are a tough group and a tough-minded group,’’ Holtmann said of Houston. “Our guys really battled and we just couldn’t get enough stops we needed to get in the second half.’’
The Buckeyes looked to have dead legs playing their fourth game in 10 days.
Wesson was never able to establish himself in the post with Houston running big bodies Gresham, Breaon Brady and Chris Harris at him. He was 3-for-7 from the floor, and two baskets were treys.
“Kaleb Wesson had seven shots and six of them were threes,’’ Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “That means we won that battle. If he’s shooting threes, that’s good for us.’’
Sampson has returned from recruiting violations that cost him his job at Indiana to lead the Cougars to victory totals of 22, 21, 27 and now 33.
He was asked about the return to glory.
“These guys weren’t born then, so that doesn’t mean anything to them,’’ he said of returning to the “Sweet 16’’ after so many decades. “That’s for the old guys. It means a lot to our fans. The bad days – the dark days – don’t mean anything to our kids.’’