The chances were dwindling, and the Buckeyes knew it.
Two complete NCAA Tournament brackets had been announced, and Ohio State had not been included among them. So when the official selection show got to the Midwest bracket and unveiled Iowa State as a No. 6 seed, the Buckeyes held their collective breath.
“There were a few times I thought, ‘That was us right there’ and anticipated and it just wasn’t us,” graduate transfer Keyshawn Woods said.
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Then, there they were. The Buckeyes were announced as a No. 11 seed, playing the late game Friday night in Tulsa, Oklahoma. For a second time in as many years, Ohio State is going dancing.
And unlike last season, this time they had to sweat it out. A No. 5 seed last season that watched the selection show assured of hearing their names called, the Buckeyes had to spend roughly 50 hours in bubble purgatory while their status was dissected, discussed and debated nonstop.
It made coach Chris Holtmann extra grateful that the Buckeyes had practice Sunday.Join the conversation at Facebook.com/groups/BuckeyeXtraFans and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
“As each hour passed (Sunday) and I studied the numbers, I studied myself into absolute paranoia and I just had to stop,” he said. “I was worried. I just got too worked up, but it was really rewarding. Our players have earned this. Players win games.”
The game will set up a rematch between the Buckeyes and Cyclones, who met in the second round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament in Dayton. Ohio State won that game 78-75 on a last-second three-pointer from Aaron Craft. In addition to knowing nothing about the city of Tulsa, both Woods and senior C.J. Jackson said they weren’t familiar with that game save for Craft’s theatrics.
It is the second time Ohio State has been a double-digit seed and the lowest in program history: as a No. 10 seed in 2015, Ohio State beat No. 7 seed VCU 75-72 in overtime before losing to No. 2 seed Arizona 73-58 in Portland, Oregon. The Buckeyes were picked to finish eighth in the Big Ten preseason media poll conducted jointly by The Dispatch and the Athletic and were projected to be a bubble team, at best, after losing the likes of Big Ten player of the year Keita Bates-Diop and all-conference senior Jae’Sean Tate.
“We knew coming into this year that a lot of people were going to count us out for different reasons,” Jackson said. “Good thing that this team didn’t really let it affect us. We did what we had to do throughout the season to put ourselves in position to make the NCAA Tournament. With a young team, that’s all you can ask for.”
For Holtmann, it marks his fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance. Including his three years with Butler, Holtmann is 5-4 in the tournament and has never failed to win at least one game, reaching the Sweet Sixteen once in 2017. Last season, the Buckeyes beat South Dakota State in Boise, Idaho, before falling to Gonzaga in the second round.
This was the first time he had to sweat out a Selection Sunday.
Feels like March #Team120 | #SelectionSunday pic.twitter.com/delvZWg5gz— Ohio State Hoops (@OhioStateHoops) March 17, 2019
“It’s meaningful to me,” Holtmann said of making the tournament with this group. “I think you just can’t explain how happy you are when you see your seniors’ faces happy. Keyshawn, the reason he came here was to play in the NCAA Tournament. You obviously want that for C.J. and Joey (Lane). I don’t know if I can overstate how important that is. It’s so much better than the alternative.”
Iowa State went 23-11 this season and won the Big 12 tournament with a 78-66 win against Kansas on Saturday. The Cyclones won three straight games in the tournament after finishing the regular season on a three-game losing streak.
“We’re not here just to play one game in the tournament, we’re here to actually win some games and make a run,” Jackson said.