Bob Hunter commentary: Memory of comeback will ease pain
LOS ANGELES — For 28 minutes, this was like a trip down memory lane, only this wasn’t like a nostalgic waltz back to your high-school prom. This was Nightmare on Elm Street.
After Ohio State streaked its way to within one win of reaching a second straight basketball Final Four, the Buckeyes went back to the bad, old days, playing like they did before their 11-game winning streak started. This was like that horrendous 71-49 loss at Wisconsin on Feb. 17. Or worse.
Last night, the Buckeyes came out shooting enough bricks to build a 23-room mansion. Their normally reliable defense couldn’t create turnovers or provide transition baskets.
With 12:07 remaining in the game, they trailed underdog Wichita State 53-33, and the season looked like it was going to leave a taste like a bad piece of tuna. It didn’t seem fair that a group that had played its way from fifth place in the Big Ten to such great expectations should go out this way, but history isn’t always kind, and legacies aren’t always fair.
“The way we shot the ball coming into the Elite Eight and Sweet 16, man, everything was falling,” Deshaun Thomas said. “But tonight just wasn’t our night. Nothing was falling.”
It’s good that the story didn’t end that way. The comeback that followed came up short, and the 70-66 loss to Wichita State is an extreme disappointment for the Buckeyes and their fans, but the final
12 minutes fit this team better than the first 28.
Ohio State closed to three points of the Shockers when Shannon Scott hit two free throws with 2:49 left. It also engineered a large part of the comeback with three starters — Thomas, Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. — playing with four fouls; Smith fouled out with 3:55 left.
“I’m proud of the way our guys came back, dug down,” coach That Matta said . “We put ourselves in the position to have a chance to win the basketball game. But as I told these guys, you’re so close to going to your second straight Final Four. Everybody remembers the last game. I’m not going to. I’m going to remember the season, because I’m very, very proud of what these guys accomplished this year.”
The miracle finally ended in the final minute, but the comeback salvaged respect for the Buckeyes. When the hangover from this game stops throbbing, they will remember their comeback, not that they played the first part of the game the way they played the first part of the season.
“It hurts,” Thomas said. “It hurts. We tried to repeat getting back to the Final Four, but man, we had a heck of a season. After that Wisconsin loss we came together as a team. This was the most that a team came together of any that I’ve been on. We had a great season, we won the Big Ten tournament, the best conference in the world in my eyes. Today was a tough loss. That’s all I got to say.”
Craft tried to put it in perspective.
“I’ve lost my three tournament games now by eight points combined,” he said. “Last year and the year before were one-possession games losing by two, and now obviously this is by four. It’s tough. It’s very tough to grasp how important a possession is in the first half and how that can come back to haunt you in the second ...”
But when the pain fades, this game won’t haunt the way it might have. A remarkable comeback is the memory that will remain.
Bob Hunter is a sports columnist for The Dispatch.