There wasn’t a whole lot of self-analyzation in the immediate aftermath of Carmen’s Crew’s surprisingly early exit in The Basketball Tournament.
Wednesday afternoon, the reigning champs, composed primarily of former Buckeyes, faltered down the stretch and were knocked out by No. 16 seed House of ‘Paign, the University of Illinois alumni team. The 76-68 defeat likely marks the end of Aaron Craft’s playing career and raised other questions about the core group of the team going forward.
Without knowing where the COVID-19 pandemic will ultimately go, Jon Diebler said his hope is that everyone returns.
"We’re all competitors," he said. "Obviously guys are going to play professionally overseas. It’s a unique situation right now with what’s going on. We’re not sure when guys will be leaving and when guys will be back, but it’s something that I’m sure we’re all planning on playing again. We all talk throughout the year, so it’s something we’ll definitely play by ear. We love playing in the TBT. We love playing on the same team together."
Craft is set to retire so he can attend medical school at Ohio State. Diebler sat out his last professional season after welcoming twins into his family. David Lighty was a member of Ohio State’s 2006 recruiting class, and Dallas Lauderdale followed in 2007 and William Buford the following year. Otterbein product Jeff Gibbs, who is approaching 40, suffered an injury early in the loss and was unable to return.
So while the spotlight shines brightest on Craft, whose status dominated the pregame talk as well as the in-game broadcast, the roster features numerous players approaching the later stages of their careers. Age, though, didn’t have much of anything to do with the manner in which Carmen’s Crew was defeated.
The team was a combined 11 for 30 (36.7%) from three-point range and was only 4 for 13 (30.8%) during the second half. Diebler, the Big Ten’s all-time leader in made three-pointers who was 3 for 5 during the first half, missed all three of his second-half attempts. Two of his makes came on the same possession that was extended by a House of ‘Paign foul.
Buford, the MVP of last year’s tournament, finished with six points on 2-of-10 shooting. And expected offensive juggernaut Deshaun Thomas, the ninth-most prolific scorer in Ohio State history, missed all four of his shots and finished with just one point in his TBT debut.
"We weren’t thinking about last year coming into this year," Diebler said. "We felt leading up to this we had a great week of practice. We had an off night shooting the ball, and it happens. This isn’t the only game that we’ve had off nights shooting the ball, but this is basketball. That’s what makes it fun."
Coach Jared Sullinger was not present for the virtual postgame press conference, leaving Craft and Diebler to speak on behalf of the team. Sullinger was coaching the team for the second straight year after having played for it before.
Regardless of the outcome, Craft said the game was not goodbye.
"We’re going to see each other maybe tomorrow," he said. "We’re not all going our separate ways yet. Multiple guys say stuff (to each other postgame). Jared did a great job. I think he prepared us well. That’s just how the game went today."
And the final Buckeye standing in The Basketball Tournament is one playing for the official alumni team of another school.
Trevor Thompson, the Ohio State center who played for the Buckeyes from 2015-17 before turning professional and going undrafted, is moving forward with Red Scare, Dayton’s alumni team that dispatched Big X on Wednesday afternoon. In the win against the team coached by former Ohio State guard Andrew Dakich, Thompson finished with 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting and had seven rebounds. The 7-footer also hit two three-pointers.
"Trevor was a huge addition for us," coach Joey Gruden said. "In Dayton basketball, we don’t have a lot of big men like him. He can do multiple things. He can play down (low) and he can shoot the three, which he did tonight. He helped us out early when we started off slow. I think he’s going to be huge for us in this tournament."
Gruden said Thompson came to join the Red Scare through a mutual friend.
"I kind of knew his dad a little bit through a family friend, so ire ached out to his dad earlier in the year," he said. "Trevor was interested in playing in the TBT and was interested in joining our squad. Adding a guy like that is a no-brainer in this tournament when you’ve got teams with other big bigs."
Matta, Izzo make appearances
They faced each other in a number of memorable games, and both former Ohio State coach Thad Matta and current Michigan State coach Tom Izzo appeared during TBT broadcasts Wednesday.
Izzo went first, speaking during Big X’s loss to the Red Scare and discussing his relationship with former player Nick Ward, who was the focal point of Big X’s offense. The game was the first in a doubleheader that concluded with Carmen’s Crew, and when Izzo was asked if he was glad he no longer had to face Aaron Craft, he laughed and said he’s looking forward to seeing him attend medical school.
"I know this: when he becomes a doctor and I need a brain surgeon I’m coming to him," Izzo said. "That kid is a classy kid."
Matta, meanwhile, joined the broadcast from what looked to be an outdoor, beach-like location. Chirping birds were clearly audible as Matta discussed seeing his former players.
"The pride factor, obviously you watch them play and that’s so important, but the pride factor in who they have become, as men, as fathers, as husbands, that to me means so much more," he said. "When you’re coaching, you’re grinding, you want the wins, but to see how these guys are now as people and in life is probably the most important thing."
Matta said he joked with Craft, who had started to grow a beard but shaved it off before the game, that he finally looked like he was 17 years old.
"He wrote me a letter probably a month ago thanking me for the opportunity," Matta said of Craft. "I framed it and put it in my office here. I’ve never received a letter like that, just saying thank you for the opportunity. I immediately called him and said, ‘No, thank you for everything you gave me.’ "
Tough time for Dakich
Big X took a pair of hits before it even entered the quarantine bubble to participate in TBT. First, former Ohio State player Keyshawn Woods tested positive for the virus while at home, making him ineligible to participate. Then, despite being more than three weeks removed from the onset of any symptoms, former Buckeyes player Jae’Sean Tate, too, was ruled out of the tournament for repeated positive tests.
Even his team’s scheduled coach was forced to cancel, leaving Dakich to serve as coach and general manager in addition to getting back onto the court after rehabilitating a torn ACL suffered two years ago and a few setbacks in his recovery.
So asked to compare his coaching experience this year to his debut last year, where Big X also won its opener and lost its second-round game, Dakich wasn’t ready to go there yet.
"It’s tough to really marinate on that right now after this loss," he said. "It’s difficult. You’ve got guys who are battling. I’m grateful that these guys all played and were eager to be a part of this. I’ll probably self-reflect and watch the games and probably have a better answer for you later down the line, but right now probably crappy is my best answer."