Losing to Michigan is always a kick in the giblets but Ohio State once again showed some fight, nearly taking down the regular season champion before falling, 72-69, this afternoon in the B1G tournament semifinals.
The loss, depending on what happens with the other conference tournaments, probably slots the Buckeyes as a #5 seed in the Big Dance which isn't horrible when you think about the roller coaster ride of a season.
LaQuinton Ross once again paced the attack with 19 points, giving him a gaudy 21 points per game average over his last five outings and Shannon Scott came out of nowhere to give Ross some help but more on that in a moment.
For now, reluctantly tip your cap to Michigan for being able to do that thing Ohio State too often can't which is MAKE SHOTS while you digest three things from today's defeat.
seniors come up short
For Ohio State to have a chance at an upset they needed legit production from their two seniors and both Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Aaron Craft came up short today.
Smith was far more culpable as he clanked six of seven shots including all four from distance to total three points. Frankly, Smith, Ohio State's 2nd leading scorer, has been nothing short of awful over the last six games, failing to reach double figures in five. He shot over 30% just once in those six outings when he blew up for 19 on 9/15 from the floor against Indiana.
He totaled just six points during two tournament games, missing nine of 11 shots.
Unless Shannon Scott plays out of his mind again and/or Sam Thompson steps up, it could be a quick tourney exit if Smith doesn't regain his stroke and confidence before next week.
Craft had a decent stat line with nine points, seven boards and six dimes albeit against four turnovers but his play down the stretch helped the Buckeyes avoid the winners circle.
On the bench with four fouls, his team went on a modest 17-11 run to turn a 56-51 deficit into a 68-67 lead before he reentered with 2:55 to play.
The rest of the way, Craft missed two free throws that would've given OSU a 70-69 lead, nearly picked Nik Stauskas clean but in failing to do so yielded a baseline layup, missed a wide open three that would've tied the game at 71, and finally, with the clock running out, lost the handle on a semi-desperation three attempt ensuring there would be no overtime.
Twitter was a dumpster fire following the game with delirious Craft detractors clashing with his uber-defenders but the bottom line is that even Aaron Craft will tell you he struggled down the stretch.
SCOTT ANSWERS THE BELL
How good was Shannon Scott today? The junior logged 32 minutes producing a season-high 18 points to go along with six assists, five rebounds and three steals against two turnovers.
He connected on a scalding 7/10 from the floor including 4/6 from distance, improving his B1G tourney shooting to 10/14 overall and 5/8 from behind the arc with 11 assists against seven turnovers.
Trailing 32-16 at the 7:39 mark, Scott fueled a 21-9 run allowing Ohio State to close to 41-37 at the break. The Buckeyes scored nine straight points to open the blitz as Scott assisted on a pair of triples and splashed one of his own in between.
His contributions were sorely needed as fellow guards/wings Amedeo Della Valle (0/3) and Smith (0/3) gave Craft and Ross little help.
With Smith's jump shot on life support, continued offensive contributions from Scott would do wonders for Ohio State's hopes of making some noise in the Dance.
SLOW STARTS CAUSE FOR CONCERN
A day after Nebraska opened the 2nd half on a 17-2 run to take a 48-30 lead, Ohio State struggled at the beginning of each half against Michigan.
Today, the Buckeyes surrendered a 15-2 blitz to open the game as part of a larger 32-16 Wolverine start before finally getting their act together. Ohio State missed five of six shots and turned it over three times during the first five minutes of action.
After closing the half on the aforementioned 21-9 run to cut the deficit to 41-37, the Buckeyes sputtered out of the 2nd half gate, giving up a 13-5 Michigan surge pushing the hole to 54-42 with 16:02 left in regulation.
Ohio State dug out of the hole again, actually taking a 61-60 lead with 7:58 left but after playing with fire over three straight halves, they finally got burnt as Michigan outscored the Buckeyes 7-2 over the final 2:55.
The same act next weekend could prove the fatal blow to Ohio State's season.