Questions abound after Buckeyes’ quick NCAA exit

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — They were just questions asked of a tired coach after a loss.
Yet Thad Matta’s responses might reveal a lot about the 2013-14 Ohio State Buckeyes.
why his team couldn’t build a lead against Dayton in a 60-59,
second-round NCAA loss on Thursday, he said, "I wish I had the answer
for you. I would have used it about a month ago."
In the end, as was the case throughout the season, not even Matta knew what to make of his team.
Buckeyes opened the season 15-0 and climbed to No. 3 in the nation. Yet
over their last 20 games, they were 10-10, a season of promise ending
in frustration.
When he was asked if he felt good when his team
used a 10-0 run to take the lead in the second half, Matta all but threw
up his hands.
"You know, you’re never comfortable," he said.
Buckeyes fans, you’re not alone. This team didn’t seem comfortable once
the calendar changed to 2014 and the opposition got better.
Now it figures to lose two and possibly three key players from a 25-10 season.
Craft, known for his hard work and defense but also an enigma on
offense, is graduating. One of the dependable things about the Buckeyes
was Craft would dive for loose balls, make a few steals — he set the Big
Ten record with 337 — and guard opposing players like a cornerback
playing bump-and-run.
Still smarting from the loss to an in-state rival, Craft declined to consider his Ohio State legacy.
I have zero thoughts on that right now," he said. "I’m upset at the way
that we played this game and the way that we didn’t take the
opportunity and make the most of it. So that’s for you guys to decide
and discuss, but right now, I can’t move past this game yet."
Buckeyes also graduate second-leading scorer Lenzelle Smith Jr. There
was nothing certain about his game. He seemed to either score 15 points
and play well at both ends or shrink into the background.
He wasn’t alone in that regard.
LaQuinton Ross, a 6-foot-8 junior, was the dependable scorer on the
team. He said after the loss he’d take time to decide whether he’ll come
back for his final year or test the waters in the NBA draft.
blossomed to lead the team with 15.2 points and 5.9 rebounds a game.
His defense, dreadful when he first came to campus, improved
Should he return, Ohio State could put together a solid team — with a lot of maybes.
Amir Williams, a 6-foot-11 former McDonald’s All-American who
disappears for long stretches, will reappear. Maybe he’ll become the
force in the middle that the Buckeyes needed so badly this year.
point guard Shannon Scott, a defensive whiz who showed flashes of an
offensive threat, will flourish with Craft gone and without having to
share the ball.
Maybe Sam Thompson, who scored 18 against Dayton
but also played in fits and starts all season, will find some
consistency as a senior. Matta has called him one of the most physically
gifted players he’s ever coached, but for three seasons he is
remembered more for his highlight-reel dunks than making plays.
sophomore-to-be Marc Loving, backup big man Trey McDonald, guard Amedeo
Della Valle and redshirt freshman Kam Williams will make big strides in
the offseason.
And maybe incoming freshmen 6-5 D’Angelo Russell,
6-7 Keita Bates-Diop, 6-4 Jae’Sean Tate and 6-10 David Bell will step
right in and contribute.
But those are a lot of possibilities with not so many guarantees.
you want it to end differently," Craft said after the Dayton loss. Of
next year’s Buckeyes he added, "These guys still have time. The best
thing that we can do is just move forward."
Before next season,
the Buckeyes will have to find more options offensively, develop an
inside presence and regain their lost mojo. After making it to the NCAA
round of 16 four years in a row, this season’s quick knockout has left
the entire program grasping for answers.
"This is a game that we
had an opportunity to win," Thompson said. "We had a chance to extend
our season, extend the seniors’ careers and we didn’t do it. So it was
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