No, Thad Matta’s Ohio State Buckeyes never won the NCAA Tournament, but on Tuesday night, a team made up of many of OSU’s all-time winningest coach’s most notable players took home $2 million as they won the 2019 edition of The Basketball Tournament. After sweeping through the regional rounds in Columbus last month, the Jared Sullinger-coached Carmen’s Crew took home the winner-take-all prize thanks to their 66-60 win of the Marquette alums of the Golden Eagles.
Buckeye legend Scoonie Penn was originally slated to coach the team, but when he knew that he would be leaving Chris Holtmann’s staff OSU for a job with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, he passed the torch to Sully.
The game was dominated by the physicality of both team’s defenses. While the shooting for both teams was respectable, the number of shots that they were able to put up was down because they had to work deep into the shot clock to get shots up.
After both teams hit their first shots from the field, it got sloppy from there as teams turned it over, took some ill-advised shots, and found the back of the iron as the teams settled into the flow of the game. The games was quick and physical in the early going. As they have throughout this year’s TBT, the referees allowed players to push and grab more than you would see in either NCAA or NBA games.
Despite the physical nature of the game, Carmen’s Crew took the early lead, 9-5, at the under-four media timeout in the first quarter. The Golden Eagles were shooting 2-for-6 from the floor, including 1-for-5 from beyond the arc, but the former Buckeyes were only able to build a modest lead.
The teams continued to struggle throughout the first quarter, but a pair of jumpers from LaQuinton Ross and John Diebler (a three-pointer, natch) gave Carmen’s Crew a 16-8 lead at the end of the first period.
The former Buckeyes’s suffocating defense held the Golden Eagles to just three buckets in the first eight minutes (3-10, 30%), while Carmen’s Crew was able to cobble out 42.9 percent (6-14) mark.
Courtney Pigram poked the ball free and David Lighty picked it up and started the break, but he found a trailer Diebler who connected on a triple. On the subsequent possession, Golden Eagle’s Derrick Wilson countered with a three of his own, and the scoring gates opened up a bit for both teams from there.
The Marquette alums used an 8-0 to get back within a bucket of the former Buckeyes at 20-18, but Aaron Craft slipped his defender for a layup to get Carmen’s Crew back on the board.
After being down by as many as 10, Maurice Acker blew past Craft to put the Golden Eagles up for the first time in the game, 25-24. Though Carmen’s Crew was continuing to shoot at the same 42.9 percent (3-7), the difference in the second quarter was that the Golden Eagles couldn’t miss. When they took the lead with 3:11 left before halftime, they were shooting 7-for-10 for the period.
Back-to-back turnovers from Carmen’s Crew — a hurried inbounds that got Diebler in juried — and a travel from Evan Ravenel gave the Eagles a chance to mount a lead, getting up to 31-27.
However, as the first half ended, Carmen’s Crew’s deficit was just two points, 31-29. Despite the injured non-shooting hand, Diebler was the leading scorer in the first half going 3-for-4 from downtown.
After a back-and-forth start to the second half, Carmen’s Crew retook the lead with 6:24 left in the third quarter as William Buford hit a three-pointer to put them up 36-33. However, four fouls on a single possession in the middle of the quarter allowed the Eagles to retake the lead momentarily, before Lighty drove through the lane for the layup.
From there, the teams began to trade buckets, as they combined to make 10-straight attempts from the field. At the end of the rush, the Golden Eagles were up 48-47. The rush included a pair of buckets from both Lighty and Jeff Gibbs for Carmen’s Crew and two for the Golden Eagles’ Acker.
The intensity and importance of each possession continued to increase as the value of each shot was amplified as the teams got closer to the Elam Ending. With $2 million on the line, every miss felt like a painful missed opportunity.
At the open of the fourth quarter, Lighty hit a three to get Carmen’s Crew’s scoring going, as they turned around and put in place a full-court press, which eventually led to a transition turnover by the Golden Eagles.
With just 1:40 until the Elam Ending was set, points were still hard to come by as the teams were knotted at 53. At that point, Carmen’s Crew hadn’t scored in 2:04, and the Golden Eagles hadn’t had a field goal in 2:40.
However, Buford was able to convert on the jumper, aided by the back of the iron. But, every time that the former Buckeyes got a lead, the Marquette alums had an answer. A Gibbs layup was answered with a Derrick Wilson triple, then following a free-throw from Craft, Carmen’s Crew had the ball up 58-57 when the Elam Ending was established at 66.
With the crowd energized, Carmen’s Crew turned the ball over on the first possession out of a timeout, and then Wilson hit another three to put the Eagles within six of the $2 million. However, after being poked in the eye on a layup attempt, Gibbs hit a pair of free-throws to tie the score at 60.
After a Golden Eagles turnover, Craft found Gibbs with a wrap-around pass in the lane, and then Diebler gets a steal at the top of the key, and takes it the distance to get his first bucket since injuring his hand. The layup moved the lead to 64-60, putting the Buckeyes alums within a basket of winning the TBT title.
With a foul on the Golden Eagles on a defensive rebound, Buford went to the line with a chance to earn his team $2 million. And — as if there was any doubt — Buford connected on both, and Carmen’s Crew officially became the champions of the 2019 version of The Basketball Tournament.