The Ohio State men's basketball team did what seemed like the unthinkable Saturday afternoon, when they shocked No. 4 Kentucky in the Barclays Center at the CBS Sports Classic. It was a complete team effort by the Buckeyes, which gives a team that perhaps had very little optimism moving forward a dose of confidence.
It really did seem like a perfect storm for failure when the Buckeyes headed into the game. They had already experienced a four-game losing streak earlier in the season, which included losses to UT Arlington and Louisiana Tech, both at home in the Schott. Prior to those losses, head coach Thad Matta was 106-1 in games against unranked non-conference opponents.
At that point, it almost seemed like a season that had some sort of potential with a very young group of Buckeyes, quickly had none at all. The two non-conference losses were compounded by an overtime loss to Memphis, and a six-point home loss to No. 10 Virginia.
In many games this season, win or lose, everything never really came together for the Buckeyes. At times, the defense would look strong, but the Buckeyes would turn the ball over endlessly. Others, the Buckeyes would be making some good shots, but they couldn't get stops on the other end of the floor.
Talks had been rampant all season about how the Buckeyes absolutely needed a presence down low, how it had been missing on the offensive end. Discussion over JaQuan Lyle's hesitation to shoot also began to surface in the past week, and with Austin Grandstaff announcing that he would be transferring, what seemed like what could have been a potentially fun season seemed all but lost.
Whatever changed for the Buckeyes from all of the games played in the season up until Saturday afternoon, it worked.
The Buckeyes immediately came out with an energy that hadn't been seen all season. Jae'Sean Tate was getting in the face of Kentucky players within the first two minutes, and that really showed that the Buckeyes were not going to back down. They were there to win, and every last person on that team believed in it.
The beauty of the win wasn't simply the fact that they won, it was how they did it. It was truly a team effort, and to see it all come together after the season that was, was particularly rewarding. Trevor Thompson looked to be the best big man out on the floor. JaQuan Lyle, Marc Loving, and Keita Bates-Diop all seemed to manage to give the Buckeyes a basket when they needed it most.
Daniel Giddens, A.J. Harris, and Kam Williams all provided a great spark off the bench when it appeared that Kentucky might be finding their way back in the game. Whenever Kentucky went on their runs, the Buckeyes did just enough to counter it, to quiet the Kentucky-heavy Barclays Center crowd, and keep their own composure.
Games like these help young teams grow. That was easily one of the biggest games anybody on the floor has played in in their entire lives, and they found a way to come out on top. Many college basketball teams, experienced or not, don't know how to finish those games out. The Buckeyes gained that experience on Saturday.
Though the postseason still seems like a pipe dream at this point, it'll be fascinating to see how Matta and the Buckeye brain trust build on Saturday's shocker. If the young guns on the Buckeyes squad can take the momentum from this win and replicate the results, who knows. They'll also have some new help in recently cleared freshman Mickey Mitchell.
Regardless of what happens next, Ohio State had, at minimum, a potentially season redefining win Saturday. And it came at a time they absolutely needed it most.