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Ohio State’s B1G Tournament run a bright spot in dismal hoops season

Don’t let a bad Buckeye basketball season distract you from a delightfully surprising and improbable tournament run.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament Semifinals Purdue vs. Ohio State David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The dead body of Ohio State’s 2023 Big Ten men’s basketball tournament run was still warm when the fun police took to social media on Saturday to remind everyone that the Buckeyes had a terrible season.

Those of us old enough to remember the days before social media knew a few of those types of people — and took great care to avoid them. However, in the digital era, at a time when people might follow hundreds or even thousands of people on social media, they are more concentrated and even more annoying. Letting people enjoy life seems to be an issue for some.

Having enjoyed the tournament run that gave us a few days’ respite from the hellish 2022-2023 OSU men’s hoops season doesn’t mean we’re blind to the problems that this year’s team had.

Ohio State has had many average — and even awful — basketball seasons before. Some of us remember when they happened much more often. What that taught us as fans is to grab enjoyment where you can and savor the good moments like the Buckeyes’ run to the conference tournament semifinals this year, despite being a lowly 13th seed in a 14-team conference.

Back in the days when the team played all its home games in St. John Arena, there were joyful moments and games, even in the midst of mediocre or bad seasons. The whole point of sports is to have fun and enjoyment and I feel legitimately sorry for people who let an overall tough season spoil their tournament experience.

What the BasketBucks did in the 2023 B1G Tournament was as enjoyable as it was unlikely. After being deprived of starting pivot Zed Key due to a shoulder injury in the midst of the team’s worst season in a quarter century, there was little reason to think Ohio State had this kind of run up its sleeve — and that’s without even knowing the extent to how battered the team really was.

Head Coach Chris Holtmann alluded to it after Saturday’s loss to Purdue, stating that a postseason tournament invitation was not likely to be accepted due to a myriad of minor knocks, telling reporters after the game:

“We have some injuries beyond what’s public that make it difficult right now. We have to get some of our guys back. They’re not significant and they need to be tended to, so that might answer your question.”

The obvious one was to freshman Brice Sensabaugh, who had to leave the game late in the win over Iowa due to a knee problem. Despite his absence, Ohio State made history by beating Michigan State and becoming the first No. 13 seed to reach the tournament’s semifinals.

Had the dynamic scorer been available against Purdue, the Buckeyes may have played on Sunday, but we’ll never know.

The tournament run not only provided the opportunity to enjoy Ohio State basketball for a few days at the end of a difficult campaign, but it could have some long-lasting benefits for the team in the years ahead.

Roddy Gayle, Jr., in particular, might benefit from this year’s tournament. Prior to this week, Gayle’s play had been inconsistent, especially on offense, and he was often on the bench in key moments. Gayle reached double figures in scoring only once prior to the tournament — a 12-point effort against St. Francis (Pa.) way back on Dec. 3. His high in Big Ten play was a nine-point effort in the home blowout win over Iowa. But as the tournament wore on, Gayle became more important, setting a new career high with 15 points against Michigan State and besting that in the semifinals with 20 points against Purdue. He went 8-of-9 from the arc in those games.

Each game of the tournament, Gayle played more minutes than the last, contributed more points each time out, and generally looked more comfortable. It’s not difficult to imagine this tournament run serving as a springboard to the talented freshman having an outstanding career. At the very least, Holtmann now knows he can trust Gayle in critical moments.

The tournament should also prove to be beneficial to Felix Okpara’s growth as a player. Two of his seven top offensive performances came in the tournament, but more importantly the minutes should help both his confidence and his development.

Even without any added benefits to the team in the future, it was nice to experience hope again in what had become a completely hopeless season. The deeper the team got in the competition, the possibility of an NCAA tournament berth became less remote. Even though it’s the hope that kills you, the Buckeyes having something on the line again felt good.

Look, I’m the first to admit that I’m a grumpy old Buckeye. But even I know how to find enjoyment in a rough season. This team’s postseason tournament run brought a lot of enjoyment to me and to many other OSU hoops fans.

Only a truly miserable bastard would try to sour that experience for others.