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Carmen’s Crew outlasts Mid American Unity 77-65 in first round of 2021 TBT

The Basketball Tournament is back and so is Carmen’s Crew!

Carmen’s Crew in 2021’s The Basketball Tournament at Ohio State’s Covelli Center
Connor Lemons | Land-Grant Holy Land

Whether it is the actual Ohio State men’s basketball team, or a squad made up of some of their most beloved alums, the most recent tournament appearances have not been great for the basketball Buckeyes. For the actual OSU team, it is that devastating loss in the NCAA Tournament to No. 15 Mouth Bob this past March.

For Carmen’s Crew, it was their loss in the first game of their title defense in last year’s The Basketball Tournament. Even though the game took place in the Columbus bubble at Nationwide Arena, the 2019 TBT champions couldn’t beat the Illinois alums of House of ‘Paign.

Back on Ohio State’s campus, playing at the Covelli Center, Carmen’s Crew came into Friday night’s TBT game as the top-seeded team in the Columbus region and looking for some redemption. They were matched up with a very talented No. 16 Mid American Unity. Now, I am no expert, but based on some of the guys on the MAU roster, giving them a 16-seed seems rather suspect to me.

The former MACers provided a formidable challenge for the former Buckeyes. After being tied at half, the OSU alums opened up a double-digit lead in the third quarter and eventually held on for a 77-65 victory.

I gotta tell ya, having the greatest play-by-play man in the history of the world, Paul Keels, on the call for this game felt like a warm blanket wrapping me up on a cold winter night. I know it’s the middle of summer, but Paul’s voice is just so comforting, it makes me want to sit in front of a fire and drink hot cocoa. Now, he was joined by a newly Lex Luthor-looking Dan Dakich, so you take the good and you take the bad, and there you have the facts of life.

As Aaron Craft discussed with ESPN’s Jen Hale in the pre-game interview, the Carmen’s Crew roster does look slightly different than it has in other years, but it was 2019 TBT MVP David Lighty who got the OSU alums off to a good start scoring CC’s first five points.

However, Mid American Unity raced out in the early going to a 9-5 lead before a transition layup by OSU alum and TBT rookie Kosta Koufos tied the game at 11 and then hit another basket to give the “home” team a lead at 13-12 with just over four minutes remaining in the first quarter.

Even though Buckeye fans only got to see him for one season in Columbus, but after a dozen years in the NBA, Koufos is now playing for his home country’s Olympiacos B.C. in the EuroLeague.

After the first timeout of the game, Aaron Craft entered the game, as did former Buckeyes Ron Lewis and J.D. Weatherspoon. However, they aren’t members of Carmen’s Crew, they are representing Mid American Unity — Lewis began his college career at Bowling Green (as Dakich mentioned 48 times in the broadcast) and Weatherspoon ended his career at Toledo.

Lewis’ first basket of the game was a triple that extended the MAU lead to 21-18, but almost as if he had been challenged, Jon Diebler hit a three-pointer of his own. And as excited as the Covelli Center crown was for that basket, on CC’s next offensive possession, former Miami (OH) star Julian Mavunga threw down an absolutely thunderous dunk to cut the deficit to 21-20 (Mavunga’s sister was a former All-Big Ten forward for Ohio State).

The first quarter wrapped up with Mid American Unity still clinging to a single-bucket lead at 23-21. Carmen’s Crew shot a blistering 72.7% from the floor in the first quarter, but they got up six fewer shots than MAU did and shot only 2-for-4 from the charity stripe.

As the second quarter got under way, Carmen’s Crew got a little sloppy, turning the ball over three times in the first minute and a half of the second period. But, Mavunga got the good guys back on track by connecting on an old-fashioned three-point play and then a smooth layup on the next possession to tie the game at 27-27. On the other end Koufos got his second block of the game on a lay up of Demetrius Treadwell.

Carmen’s Crew’s hot shooing cooled down a bit in the second half; they connected on only two of their first six attempts in the first 4:30 of the quarter. Fortunately, Mid American Unity was even worse in the period, going 3-for-11.

The teams continued to trade baskets throughout the remainder of the half. With 00:30 remaining before intermission, the 40-year-old Carmen’s Crew vet Jeff Gibbs got a layup while being bodied down low, but Mid American Unity got a Jimmy Hall Jr. layup as time expired to tie the game at 37 as they headed into the locker room for the break.

At halftime, Carmen’s Crew was outshooting MAU by 17% (56% to 39%), but turned the ball over 10 times to the MAC alums’ six. Unsurprisingly, David Lighty led CC in scoring with 9 points on 4-for-4 shooting. Carmen’s Crew rookie Mavunga was next with 8. Hall Jr. led all scorers with 10.

In addition to the turnovers, Carmen’s Crew also struggled a bit from the line shooting a collective 4-for-7 (57.1%) from the stripe. The Ohio State alums were also outscored 12-3 in terms of fast break points in the first half as well.

CC’s head coach Jared Sullinger was not impressed with his team’s effort in the first half and he let his players know it during halftime.

Perhaps inspired by Sully’s speech, Carmen’s Crew went on a run to open the half, Gibbs and Koufos both picked up a quick four points and William Buford connected from distance to open up a lead for the home team at 48-40. The 11-3 run gave the former Buckeyes their biggest lead of the game and got the Covelli Center crowd on their feet.

After the former Buckeyes opened up a double-digit lead, the MACers continued to stick around and chip away at the lead. But, whenever Carmen’s Crew needed a bucket or a rebound, it seemed like either Mavunga or Lighty was there to make a play in order to keep a little distance on the scoreboard.

Heading into the fourth quarter, the home team was up 64-55 thanks to a buzzer-beating basket from Buford who collected the rebound from a Keyshawn Woods miss on the right baseline and connected on jumper fading away to his right.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love watching this team play. No, they weren’t on the Buckeye squad when I was in school, but the era that most of these guys played in Columbus was just so much fun to watch, and it was because of the smooth playmaking like this from players like Buford, Lighty, and so many more.

In the fourth quarter, Carmen’s Crew missed its first four attempts from the floor and didn’t score from the floor until 5:17 left in regulation as Buford hit a corner three to up the score to the very nice total of 69-60 in favor of the good guys. That gave the OSU alums a nine-point lead with just 1:17 left until the Elam Ending was initiated.

After a MAU miss and Carmen’s Crew rebound, Sullinger called a timeout to set the Elam Ending target score at 77. If you are new to TBT, at the first dead ball after the 4:00 mark in the fourth quarter, the target score is determined. They take the score of the team that’s in the lead and add eight.

From there, whichever team gets to that total first wins; so there’s no need to foul on every possession if you’re trailing in order to prolong the game.

After a Lighty layup, Koufos got a block on the defensive in and the big man ran the floor and got the ball back from Shannon Scott and threw down a monstrous dunk to get Carmen’s Crew within four points of victory at 73-62. On the next offensive possession Koufos hit a baby hook, and then with the chance to win the game, the big man was fouled in the act of shooting and hit both free throws to ice the game, scoring the final six points for Carmen’s Crew. Koufos finished the game with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Koufos was joined in the double-double club by Buford who also put up 14 and 10. Lighty led all scorers with 19 points.

While the first half was a bit wonky, the OSU veterans seemed to get into a better flow in the second half and it felt like they had worked off the rust from not playing together in a real game setting in a year.

Carmen’s Crew will be back on the Covelli Center court on Sunday at 4 p.m. ET as they take on the Purdue alums Men of Mackey. MoM won their opening round game over the Tennessee alum Ballinteers 83-74.

And as if Ohio State fans needed something else to make them feel good tonight, you can let Aaron Craft doing Aaron Craft things rock you to sleep.

Carmen’s Crew will be back on the Covelli Center court on Sunday at 4 p.m. ET as they take on the Purdue alums Men of Mackey. MoM won their opening round game over the Tennessee alum Ballinteers 83-74.