Despite a somewhat make-shift lineup, the team of (mostly) Ohio State alumni known as Team Scarlet & Gray advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2018 edition of The Basketball Tournament with a 72-60 victory over the North Carolina-based No. 12 Primetime Players in Atlanta on Friday night in the Super 16. Despite S&G consisting of some of the best players in recent Ohio State history, and the Players being an extremely successful semi-pro team, at times on Friday night (especially in the first half), the pace and efficiency of the game looked like little more than that of a midsummer, Sunday afternoon pickup game at the Y between guys trying to run off their dad-bods instead of mowing the lawn.
That could, in part, be due to the soap opera roster upheaval that S&G head coach Scoonie Penn had to deal with over the previous week, as the availability of Jared Sullinger— who dominated TBT’s first two rounds— seemed to be an ever-evolving question, given his nuptials this weekend.
Then, Byron Mullens, who played well off of the bench in Game 1 withdrew from the team, citing a disagreement over the distribution of the potential payout should Scarlet & Gray win the tournament’s $2 million winner-take-all prize. According to the team, former Nittany Lion star guard Talor Battle was absent for the game, because he is also getting married this weekend.
So, with the squad down two former-Buckeye bigs, perhaps the biggest of all former Buckeyes stepped up to join the roster against the Primetime Players, as former No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft Greg Oden joined the team in Hotlanta. Friday night was Oden’s first game since his professional career wrapped up three years ago in China.
After William Buford got the scoring going for S&G, Oden used his considerable size advantage down low over Curtis Withers to get an early bucket and an early one-point lead. It was a sloppy start-and-stop opening for both sides, but when David Lighty hit a triple with 5:22 left in the first quarter, it opened up the scoring for both teams, with the Players taking a 13-12 advantage into a media time out.
When the teams came back onto the floor, Penn made a number of changes in the S&G rotation. Big men Evan Ravenel and Dallas Lauderdale came into the game, spelling Oden, who struggled early guarding Withers, who stretched the floor and hit two early threes.
Ravenel hit both of his attempts in the opening quarter, including a three-pointer, but it wasn’t enough to give the Scarlet & Gray the lead after the first 9:00. Despite a last-second three from way downtown by Courtney Pigram, the Primetime Players led 25-23 at the first break.
Even though Buford got a couple of buckets early, he ended up sitting through much of the second quarter, saddled with three offensive fouls. Oden also picked up three fouls by the midway point of the second quarter.
Before Penn got the big man out of the game, Aaron Craft used him as a bit of a distraction on the fast break. In a two-on-one, instead of giving it up to the 7-footer underneath, Craft gave it up to the trailing Jon Diebler who hit the three to to bring the former Buckeyes within a point at 33-32.
As the teams felt each other out in the early goings, it settled into a battle between S&G’s size vs. the Players’ speed. That quickness forced the former Buckeyes into an uncomfortably high number of offensive fouls.
It was another three-pointer from Diebler (with an assist from Craft) with 2:55 left in the first half put the Scarlet & Gray in the lead; the pair connected for another triple with less than a minute remaining. Thanks to the silky touch of the best three-point shooter in the history of Big Ten basketball, the Scarlet & Gray took a 42-37 lead into halftime.
At the intermission, the S&G scoring was well distributed. Diebler led the way with 9, while Lighty had 7. Oden was 3-for-4 for six points, and Craft, Ravenel, and Buford all had 5. The former Buckeyes turned it on late in the half to shoot 50 percent in the first 18 minutes, including 8-15 (53.3%) from beyond the arc.
For the Primetime Players, Terell Smith turned in 8, while Sean Barnette and Withers had 7 apiece. Though the team started hot from the floor early, they slowed down as the former Buckeyes imposed their size and athleticism advantages, and the Players finished the half shooting 40.7 percent.
Scarlet & Gray held a 20-to-14 advantage on the boards, and a 16-6 edge in points in the paint.
As the second half opened, Penn had his guys open up in a match-up zone, presumably designed to limit the Players’ ability to connect from long-range. Despite the new defensive scheme, the Players continued to bury buckets, keeping the game close.
However, an impressive slip into the lane by Craft was followed up by a three-pointer by Buford, and S&G extended their lead to 50-43 with 5:39 to go in the third quarter. A minute later on the break, Craft found Lauderdale with a look-away alley-oop, and then the next time down the floor, Buford hit his third three of the game, stretch the former Buckeyes’ lead to 12, 55-43. The triple pushed S&G to a 10-0 run in less than two minutes of action.
With a 61-49 lead heading into the fourth quarter, it was their defense that allowed S&G to extend their lead to a dozen. In the third quarter, they help the Primetime Players to just 3-of-12 shooting, while the OSU alums went 6-13 (46.2 percent).
Lauderdale picked up his second block on a ferocious rejection late in the third quarter as Penn used platoon of Lauderdale, Ravenel, and Oden down low. In the third quarter alone, the trio combined for nine points and a pair of boards.
As the clock ticked down to the Elam Ending cutoff, the Players chipped away at the S&G lead. Following an old-fashioned three-point play and a subsequent jumper by Barnette, they trailed just 65-60 with 5:19 remaining; less than 90 seconds until the target score was determined.
After a frantic possession for PTP, a defensive rebound by Diebler led to a timeout to put the Elam Ending score at 72.
After the timeout, Craft just kept probing the defense until he was able to find a crease to the rim, where he laid it in to go up 67-60. Defensive pressure by Diebler led to a Barnette turnover. On the next offensive possession, Craft again kept the ball and took himself to get the Ohio State alums within a three-pointer of the victory.
From there, it was all three-balls for the former Buckeyes. After Buford missed from distance, Lighty got the rebound and found Buford in the left corner, where he drained it to secure the win 72-60.
The balance from Team Scarlet & Gray without Sullinger bore itself out again, as nine of the 10 players that saw the floor scored multiple buckets. Buford led the way with 14, while Craft’s late surge got him 13 points to go along with nine rebounds and six assists. Oden, in his return to competitive ball had 11.
Team Scarlet & Gray will be back on the court on Sunday, July 29 at 3:00 p.m. ET, taking on the second-seeded Team Fredette. The Fighting Jimmers beat the Fort Wayne Champs earlier on Friday night, by a score of 104-91, with the team’s namesake putting up 42.