There will be no repeat for Carmen’s Crew.
One year removed from its first The Basketball Tournament championship, the team of Ohio State alumni was bounced in its first game of the tournament. No. 16 seed House of ‘Paign, a team of Illinois alumni, took the lead with 2:30 to play in the third quarter and never let go, pulling away for a 76-68 win Wednesday afternoon at Nationwide Arena.
It marked the final professional game for Aaron Craft, who will begin attending medical school this summer.
"For me personally, it is sad," he said. "It is tough. Obviously most people don’t go out how you hope to, but sometimes it happens. I got an opportunity to play with these guys and hang out with them for five days in the hotel, and TBT gave me that."
Kyle Vinales delivered the final blow, scoring on a floater in the paint to hit the Elam Ending target score and clinch the upset of top-seeded Carmen’s Crew.
It was a stunning turnaround. Three minutes into the second half, Carmen’s Crew looked poised to win going away. After closing the first half with a run, a pair of early three-pointers pushed its lead to nine points at 50-41 before House of ‘Paign mounted a challenge.
"We did a good job of fighting back, but they stayed with it," Craft said. "That’s a good team. Props for that."
A 9-0 run starting with a Mike Daun three-pointer tied the game at 50-all with 3:53 left in the quarter, and after a Demetri McCamey jumper a 7-0 run made it a 57-52 House of ‘Paign lead that would become a 58-56 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Carmen’s Crew started four former Buckeyes in William Buford, Aaron Craft, Dallas Lauderdale and David Lighty alongside Otterbein product Jeff Gibbs. Deshaun Thomas, playing in TBT for the first time, was the first substitute off the bench.
Craft got the game off to a quick start with a transition layup 19 seconds in, scoring the first points of the afternoon, but House of ‘Paign opened up a six-point lead with a 9-2 run as the first quarter nearly came to a close. Just before the whistle, Diebler drew a foul with two seconds remaining and hit two of three free throws to pull Carmen’s Crew within 19-15 at the break.
But when former Ohio State coach Thad Matta appeared on screen for an in-game interview, House of ‘Paign put its foot on the gas, built a 31-20 lead and looked destined for more until a Diebler outburst. The Big Ten’s all-time leader in three-pointers had a three-point attempt knocked out from underneath the rim, resulting in a goaltending call. It came a split-second after a foul had been called on House of ‘Paign, giving Carmen’s Crew the three points and the ball.
Diebler took advantage by burying another three for a six-point possession, and a comeback was on.
That outburst started a 17-4 run that also featured two threes from McCamey and was ended by another Diebler three to make it a 37-35 Carmen’s Crew lead, and there was still more to come. Lenzelle Smith added a three, Craft had a layup and Dallas Lauderdale threw down a dunk off a pick-and-roll as Carmen’s Crew built a 44-39 lead it took into the half.
Craft had to leave the game with 4:54 remaining in the third quarter when he clutched his left leg after diving for a loose ball during a scrum at the defensive end of the court. He would return.
It wasn’t the only injury to the reigning champions. Gibbs sat out most of the game after aggravating a right calf injury, according to the ESPN broadcast, further thinning the roster.
The question now is what the future of Carmen’s Crew might hold. Diebler expressed his hope of returning to the event next summer.
"We’re all competitors," he said. "Obviously guys are going to play professionally overseas. It’s a unique situation with what’s going on. We’re not sure when guys will be back. It’s something I’m sure we’re all planning on playing again. It’s something we’ll definitely play by ear. We love playing in the TBT. We love playing on the same team together."