Ohio State’s dream season has ended at the hands of Gonzaga, 90-84. As soon as the NCAA bracket was announced last Sunday, this result was penciled in by almost anyone that thought Ohio State would avoid the upset bid from South Dakota State. Ohio State was the underdog against a team with far more depth, tournament experience, and honestly, talent. That’s nothing new for Ohio State, they’ve been dealing with that all season long.
Is the loss disappointing? Of course it is. If it wasn’t for a terrible start, bricked layups, and some (extremely) rough officiating, Ohio State probably pulls the upset, and continues their dream run. Sadly, that bad start can’t be erased, and despite an incredible effort, the Buckeyes just didn’t have enough to knock off Gonzaga. While the loss is disappointing, and while I certainly spent plenty of time yelling at my TV this season as Ohio State played (a sentiment I’m sure many can relate to), this loss shouldn’t take away at all from what this team accomplished.
Ohio State, as I’m sure you know by now, was projected as the 11th best team in the Big Ten coming into the season. Dead in the water in early June— without a coach, a direction, or an entire recruiting class— as the 2015 recruiting class finished their evacuation with the loss of Jaquan Lyle. On June 9th, former Butler head coach Chris Holtmann was hired as the head coach, and given five months to put together a team. After adding Kyle Young, Musa Jallow, and most importantly (somehow) Andrew Dakich, the Buckeyes were ready to “suffer” through what was an obvious rebuilding year.
The team and coaches had other plans. Despite a slow start, with bad losses to Clemson, North Carolina, and Gonzaga, the Buckeyes started to gel, and flashed their potential in an incredible come-from-behind win against Michigan. As the team continued to tear through the Big Ten, in a run that included an extremely satisfying blowout win over then-N0. 1 Michigan State, both the team, and Keita Bates-Diop began picking up serious national attention, and deservedly so.
As usual, with teams that lack depth, the Buckeyes struggled late in the season, dropping games to Penn State (x3) and Michigan, as they licked their wounds heading into the NCAA tournament. Stop and think about that for a second though. Ohio State, led by the best player in the Big Ten, was headed to the NCAA tournament. After hiring their coach in the middle of June. After playing a former Michigan walk-on significant minutes all season. After all the turmoil, and struggle, Ohio State managed to make the tournament as a five-seed. They managed to be good enough to disappoint with a loss to a really damn good team. That’s an absolute miracle.
Like I said, Ohio State fans have plenty of reason to be upset with this loss. It’s the end to an incredible run, and it was a game that Ohio State would probably win four out of five times. But, Ohio State fans have absolutely no reason to hang their heads after this loss. The players on the team have absolutely nothing to ashamed of.
Ohio State fought to the bitter end, just like they did for the entire season. Down ten with a minute left, they fought, and clawed, and scrapped for anything they could get, and showed absolutely no signs of giving in. Musa Jallow launched himself after a loose ball. Jae’sean Tate played with more intensity than anyone else in the country, just like he has for four years. The entire team gave their full effort, and should be extremely proud of what they accomplished.
The final score wasn’t what they wanted. The final game of this dream season came far too soon. But, this team deserves to be remembered for everything that they did for this program, this university, this fan base, and for the entire state of Ohio. You won’t find a team in the country with more heart than the one from Columbus, and for that, they deserve more love and support than they’ll ever receive.
Keita Bates-Diop is one of the most natural scorers I’ve ever seen don a Buckeye uniform. If this was his last game (as it should be), he lived up to the lofty expectations, just as he did all season long. He was a constant scoring threat, and a calming figure on a team that lived off of chaos.
Kam Williams finally got the hero moment that he deserved in the penultimate game of his Ohio State career. After playing second fiddle to Marc Loving, or D’Angelo Russell, or Keita Bates-Diop for his entire career, Kam single-handedly won the game for Ohio State against South Dakota State, and did so in the only way he knows how: with extremely ill-advised reverse layups, fadeaway threes, and a general disregard of all logic and reason.
Tate fouled out on a terrible call, and deserved the chance to finish his final game as a Buckeye on the court with his teammates. It’s a travesty that he had to watch the end from the bench. If there’s been one bright spot for Ohio State the past four years, it’s been Jae’sean Tate. He’s not flashy, he’s not a freak athlete, he’s not going to ever be an NBA star, but he gave everything he had for four seasons, and he’s as important to his team as any other player in the nation.
Last, but certainly not least, Andrew Dakich. Dakich, the podcast expert and transfer from Michigan, has been an inexplicable fan-favorite for the entire season, and while he’s not Aaron Craft, as announcers wanted him to be, Dakich played just as hard as the rosy-cheeked Buckeye legend all season long, scrapping for steals, rebounds, and converting the ugliest layups I’ve ever seen. I’ve never cheered louder at a sporting even than I did when he drained a three against Michigan to lock up the win. Andrew Dakich will go down in Ohio State history as a legitimate contributor, and that rules.
It’s extremely difficult to put a cap on the eulogy of a season that no one saw coming. The end of this season is as painful as any loss Ohio State has experienced in the last decade, in any sport, and to see this run end is heartbreaking. But, I think I speak for all of Buckeye Nation when I say this: thank you, Keita, Jae’sean, Kam, and Andrew. Thank you to the entire team. You made us all proud to be Buckeye basketball fans. The future is extremely bright in Columbus. Enjoy the ride.