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Carmen’s Crew can’t repeat as they fall to House of ‘Paign

David Lighty led the way for the defending champs.

Ohio State v Dayton Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

After the C.J. Jackson and Andre Dakich-led Big X team fell to the Dayton alums of Red Scare in the first game of the day for The Basketball Tournament, the older Ohio State alums of Carmen’s Crew took to the Nationwide Arena floor in a quest to repeat as TBT champions. Meeting up against an Illinois alumni team in House of ‘Paign (like Champaign, get it?), Aaron Craft, David Lighty, William Buford, and the rest of the Crew couldn’t survive a hot-shooting onslaught as they fell in their quest for the the million dollar top-prize thanks to a 76-68 victory.

Over the past four seasons that Carmen’s Crew (formerly Scarlet & Gray) has played in TBT, I’ve written about how nostalgic seeing this particular collection of Buckeyes play together makes me, and now knowing that this tournament will mark the end of Craft’s professional career (although he didn’t completely commit to that pregame), made that sense of sentimentality even stronger than in years past.

Carmen’s Crew vet Jeff Gibbs started the game, but a calf injury flared up early, putting him on the bench for the duration of the contest. He ended the game as the only Carmen’s Crew member not to crack the scoring column.

The opening minutes were a bit wonky for both teams, as Carmen’s Crew attempted to acclimate to their first game action. The Illinois alums had already played one game in this year’s TBT, defeating No. 17 War Tampa on July 4, 76-53. Despite the rust, Craft picked up the first bucket of the game, because natch.

The teams went back and forth throughout the first quarter, with David Lighty leading all scorers with seven, but the Illini alums led going into the first break 19-15. House of ‘Paign took their early edge thanks to a couple of late three-pointers; they were 3-for-7 (42.9%) in the first quarter.

With less than three seconds left in the period, but only one tick left on the shot clock, Jon Diebler launched a deep three that went wanting, but Leron Black hit him on the elbow, giving the best three-point shooter in Buckeye history three free throws. He hit two of the three, cutting Carmen’s Crew’s deficit to four.

In the opening minutes of the second quarter, the ESPN broadcast team took a minute to interview former Ohio State coach Thad Matta from his home, but as he was reminiscing about coaching Lighty, Craft, and many of the other Carmen’s Crew players, House of ‘Paign ran out to a 31-20 lead before Sullinger called a timeout to regroup his guys.

Following the timeout, Diebler pulled in the unusual six-point possession. On the “first” possession, he put up a three, but while it was falling, not only did Billy Garrett Jr. commit a foul underneath, but the ball was poked out from underneath resulting in a goaltending.

So, the basket counted, and the foul gave the ball back to them, and immediately thereafter, Diebler hit another triple. Then, just 2:45 after being down by 11, Diebler hit his third three-pointer of the quarter to push the former Buckeyes up 37-35.

From there, it felt like Carmen’s Crew finally was starting to find its groove; settling into the rhythm of teammates that have played together for OSU and at open gyms for nearly a decade. That was never more clear as when Craft and Dallas Lauderdale executed a picture-perfect pick-and-roll that resulted in a thunderous alley-oop. At halftime, Camren’s Crew led 44-39.

I don’t know if it is my increasingly advanced age, or the impact of the tumultuous times that we are living through, but seeing this group of Buckeyes together again — with Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger on the bench — got me extra emotional.

For OSU fans of a certain age, this collection of players represent one of the most incredible eras in Ohio State men’s basketball history. From 2010-13, the Buckeyes won three Big Ten titles (finishing second in the other year) and made two Sweet Sixteens, an Elite Eight, and a Final Four. Not only was that four-year stretch an incredible run in terms of competition, but the style of play was entertaining, the players had loads of personality, and Matta was at his red-faced best.

While Ohio State has had many years of men’s basketball success before and since, there will always be something special about that era in program history for me.

Anyway, back to the action; halfway through the third quarter, with Carmen’s Crew maintaining a lead, Craft found himself at the bottom of a pile-up, and after a delay in the action, gingerly limped off the floor. From there, House of ‘Paign mounted a comeback going up by as much as 57-52 in the third quarter.

With a little more than a minute left in the quarter, Craft returned to action, and almost immediately found Lighty for a mid-lane bunny to cut the lead to a single-bucket. Heading into the final quarter of action, House of ‘Paign held a slim 58-56 lead.

In the second quarter, the OSU alums went 6-for-10 from beyond the arc, which allowed them to overcome that double-digit deficit. But, in the third period, they were only 2-for-4, and Diebler didn’t score at all.

While the Illini alums tried to increase their lead, Carmen’s Crew turned to Lighty who hit back-to-back buckets (including a triple), and then after Craft forced Mike Daum into an offensive foul, Buford connected from downtown to put the home team up 64-63. However, the lead was short-lived as House of ‘Paign scored the next five to set the Elam Ending score at 76. With the Illinois squad up 68-63, Carmen’s Crew had an up-hill battle to stay alive in the tournament.

After a timeout, Craft found Lauderdale for another pick-and-roll alley-oop, but it was quickly matched by a Duam dunk, and Kyle Vinales got a layup on the next possession to put House of ‘Paign just four points from the win.

Still on the ropes, Lighty grabbed a steal at the top of the key and coasted to a layup, but it wasn’t enough as Vinales hit the bucket to end the game and Carmen’s Crew’s hopes of repeat titles.