Entering the game between No. 10 Ohio State and No. 2 Arizona, I thought the Wildcats would prove to be too big, too athletic and just simply too good for the Buckeyes to keep pace. In the end, that was the case, but not before Ohio State really made them earn it.
Had you told me that Sam Thompson would outscore Stanley Johnson 18-4, that the Buckeyes would be down just one at half despite just five points from D’Angelo Russell and that four different Ohio State players would hit a three, I would have said that the Buckeyes were in great position to steal a game from Arizona.
In the end, Ohio State simply didn’t have enough. Here is what I saw in the final game of the Buckeyes season.
- Effective Zone: Remember when everyone, myself included, was lambasting the Buckeyes zone defense early in the season before Thad Matta abandoned it for a man-to-man look? Well, Ohio State went back to it in the NCAA Tournament with great success.
- Great Gameplan: Going off of that, I thought Ohio State had about as good a gameplan as possible entering a game in which they were simply overmatched form a talent standpoint. The Buckeyes zone countered the length that the Wildcats had well and they really limited Arizona’s talented frontcourt (Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley totaled 22 combined points after averaging 38 a game this year).
- Rough Exit For Russell: While he did not comment on whether he will enter the NBA Draft this spring, the overwhelming assumption is that Russell just played his last college game. That’s too bad. Not because he shouldn’t go pro (he is in line to be a Top 5 pick, get yours DAR), but because of how he will go out.
- Thompson Tough: While it is likely that was Russell’s last game, it definitely was for Thompson. The senior finished with a team-high 18 points and certainly went down swinging. He won 109 games as a Buckeye and passed 1,000 points for his career Saturday, the 52nd Buckeye to do that.
- Looking ahead: There will be more on this tomorrow, but with Thompson, Shannon Scott, Amir Williams, Trey McDonald and Anthony Lee exhausting their eligibility and Russell likely forgoing the rest of his, the Buckeyes will be a very different team next year.
Ohio State was communicating well defensively, especially in the first half, and had great energy on that end of the floor. It flummoxed the Wildcats early before they caught fire from outside in the second half. Considering Arizona entered the game hitting just five threes a game, it appeared to the right move.
Matta basically said T.J. McConnell and Gabe York were going to have to beat the Buckeyes. They did.
“I think when you are playing a team the caliber of Arizona, you need a little bit of luck,” Matta said. “To do over again, I would have done the exact same thing that we did.”
That was by far the worst shooting performance of the season, and one Russell surely would like to do over. Still, the kid makes plays every game that make me say, ‘Wow.’ The entire building was in awe when he fired a no-look laser from the halfcourt line to Jae’Sean Tate at the rim. That pass was unreal. Usually a “no-look” pass involves a player quickly looking away after making the pass, in this case Russell legitimately wasn’t looking at Tate when it left his hands.
Russell will likely make some NBA fanbase very happy in the near future and I really enjoyed watching him play this season.
A Top 10 class enters with four four-star players, but it will be tough for the Buckeyes to find leadership. Ohio State will have just one junior in Marc Loving on a team filled with sophomores and freshmen. I fully expect Tate to be the Buckeyes leader going forward, the face of the program for the next three years.
“Definitely the guys that played this year are going to have to be leaders with such a young team,” Tate said. “Definitely just coming here in Portland just made us all hungry.”
While I will definitely have more basketball coverage in the coming days, this Ohio State loss in Portland ends my first season back on the beat since my college days. It’s fitting that I used the final page of my notebook and my favorite pen ran out of ink during this game. It was time for the season to be done.
It was an interesting team to cover and I truly enjoyed doing it, I hope you all enjoyed reading.