Multiple Ohio State freshmen realized that dream in the form of the Buckeyes 75-72 overtime victory over VCU in their first-ever NCAA Tournament game Thursday night.
“Just how our first game came down to the wire, like in March Madness you just see that happen so many times, so many upsets,” freshman forward Jae’Sean Tate said. “Just for my first game to come down to the wire was like a reality check.
“Just excitement, just the rush of just being there, being blessed with the opportunity.”
Tate was a big factor in the win, logging 32 minutes before fouling out in a physical battle with the Rams. He finished with 12 points and eight rebounds, part of a strong performance for a freshmen class getting their first taste of March Madness.
Led by 28 points from D’Angelo Russell the freshman class scored 46 of Ohio State’s 75 points, connecting on 17 of 30 field goals, 6 of 9 three-point attempts and hauling in 15 rebounds. Russell played all but one minute in his first tournament game while Keita Bates-Diop was the third freshman to contribute with six points on two huge threes in 13 minutes of court time.
“I mean, I watched this my whole life,” Russell said. “Just knowing that a lot of great teams go down, a lot of underdogs achieve, just with the mentality that anything can happen.
“Obviously it’s something that you look forward to. It’s an honor to play in it, but to win in it is a different story and we’re here now, we can’t be star struck about the tournament. We have to keep taking it one game at a time and keep winning.”
A Russell said, the freshmen weren’t focused on the fact that they were living their dreams (or at least starting to as the dream likely ends with cutting down the nets). If they had been they wouldn’t have been able to contribute in the manner in which they did.
Tate said that before the game, it mostly felt like any other. But the Pickerington native grew up watching Ohio State participate in March Madness and the freshman said that after the game he took some time to let everything sink in.
“I would say that moment for me came after the game,” he said. “I was just so focused, so ready to start the game because I knew that we needed that win. Later on in the hotel it kind of hit me that it’s March Madness.”
When looking at the box score, Bates-Diop was the least effective of the three freshmen to play more than 10 minutes against the Rams, but his two threes were huge. One came late in regulation while the second gave the Buckeyes the lead for good in overtime.
“It was a great feeling, a feeling of accomplishment I guess,” Bates-Diop said. “It’s so hard to get here and finally being able to play in it was big.”
The first-year player said that he had about 50 texts when he got to his phone after the game and has since heard from some people he hasn’t talked to in years. When you’re a part of the madness, everyone notices.