On a blustery Thursday afternoon, the Ohio State Buckeyes demonstrated how maddeningly inconsistent their basketball team had been over the previous three months.
They played effective defense and looked inept on offense. They trailed for most of the game and led with five seconds to play. But the underdog Dayton Flyers beat them, 60-59, in First Niagara Center.
“We knew going into the season we were going to get everybody’s best shot,” Ohio State forward Sam Thompson said. “Today we weren’t able to withstand it.”
Ohio State could thump a ranked team one night and lose to a conference dog the next. Just before the NCAA tourney, a couple of weeks after lowly Penn State recorded a season sweep, Ohio State beat No. 11 Michigan State and then eked out a victory over last-place Purdue.
“It’s kind of been this team this year,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “As I told them after the game, truth be told, we probably shouldn’t have been in this position.”
Matta meant the Buckeyes were talented enough to have a higher seed and face a softer opening opponent. Still, they brandish bona fides, having reached at least the Sweet 16 three straight seasons and at least the Final Four twice in the past seven years.
So the tournament committee seeded the Buckeyes sixth, giving them a supposedly comfortable matchup against the 11th-seeded Flyers, the last of six Atlantic 10 teams to get selected.
The Buckeyes had their moments Thursday. They looked dominant during a 10-0 run that lasted nearly five minutes in the second half.
Matt Kavanaugh, who led the Flyers with nine points in the first half, finished with nine points.
Matta, a believer in the chestnut that teams are as good as they practice, claimed this was among the best practice teams from his 10 years at Ohio State. At times in the second half, it showed.
“An interesting phenomenon,” Matta said.
Buckeye fans weren’t too surprised when Flyers guard Vee Sanford, with two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Craft on him, knifed into the lane and banked home a shot with 3.8 seconds left. Craft’s reply rimmed out at the buzzer.
“You have 10 losses on the season, and you’ve led nine of them in the second half,” Matta lamented. “The other one that you lose, you’re down one with eight minutes to go. I wish I had the answer for you. I would have used it about a month ago.”