They’ve been the team of destiny, the beneficiary of back-to-back game-winning shots on the way to the Elite Eight.
They’ve been the upset special, falling to a double-digit seed in their first game of the tournament.
The Ohio State senior class has had a diversity of experiences in the NCAA Tournament and now it’s their turn to try to play spoiler.
“We remember the feeling of cruising through the bracket, we remember the feeling of hitting back-to-back game-winners our sophomore year and really making a deep run,” senior Sam Thompson said. “Then, we compare that to how we felt last year getting bounced in the first round. We obviously want to advance deep into the tournament, keep going as long as we can for our careers. We think that we have the team to do it, we have the experience and we have all the pieces. We just have to put them together.”
When the current seniors were freshman, the second-seeded Buckeyes advanced to the Final Four behind Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas before falling to Kansas in 2012. Ohio State’s four wins in that tournament came by an average of 12 points.
The following year, last second shots by Aaron Craft against Iowa State and LaQuinton Ross against Arizona propelled the Buckeyes, again a two-seed, to the Elite Eight.
Then came last year’s disappointing tournament. As a No. 6 seed the Buckeyes fell to 11th-seeded Dayton as Craft’s last-second layup rolled out.
“We wouldn’t have it any other way,” Thompson said of the close losses. “We’re not going to lay down and let anybody end our season. We know that in the NCAA Tournament our next loss, that’s it. That’s it for that team, that’s it for those senior’s careers. We’re going to fight for as long as we can for 40 minutes and that’s the end of it.”
This season, the seniors are in unfamiliar territory as a 10-seed. It’s the lowest seed in program history for the Buckeyes and the first time that the senior class will be the lower seed in their first game. In fact, in Ohio State’s 10 NCAA Tournament games in the last three seasons they have been the lower seed just once. Ohio State was the two-seed in an Elite Eight matchup with top-seeded Syracuse in 2012 and the Buckeyes earned a 7-point win.
That was the first year at Ohio State for the current seniors who served as role players on that trip to the Final Four. Thompson played in all five tournament games that year scoring a total of four points in 6.8 minutes of court time per game. Scott saw the court in four of the five games and also scored four total points while Williams played in three games, most notably scoring three points with four rebounds and two blocks in nine minutes of relief against Syracuse.
The following year Thompson and Williams stepped into the starting lineup while Scott was the first reserve off the bench. The trio all started last year in the disappointing loss to Dayton.
As role players the senior class has experienced great success at Ohio State. Now a contest against No. 7 VCU presents an opportunity to start towards the same type of success as leaders.
“In my mind for our seniors it is a great opportunity for those guys to make some sort of a statement in terms of what they are remembered here for,” head coach Thad Matta said. “I think their freshman year we had Jared, their sophomore year we had Deshaun, their junior year we had LaQuinton, all guys who are playing professionally.
“Here it is. You’ve been to a Final Four, you’ve been to an Elite Eight and you’ve been knocked out in the first round. What’s going to happen now?”