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Published: Sunday, 3/28/2010

Loss trumps successes for frustrated Buckeyes

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

ST. LOUIS - A bunch of Buckeyes struggled to find anything positive to say about their season that ended abruptly Friday with a 76-73 loss to Tennessee in the NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal.

The abject disappointment over the defeat, and the sub-par performance most of the Ohio State players felt they gave, left them with little emotion to spend on any big-picture issues.

"It's just disappointing, really disappointing right now," Ohio State sophomore William Buford said moments after the game. "We just didn't play our game, didn't make shots, didn't rebound like we needed to. The things we've done all year - we didn't do tonight."

Despite coming up two wins short of a trip to the Final Four, the Buckeyes won 29 games, claimed a share of the Big Ten's regular-season championship, and won the conference tournament title as well before sweeping to wins in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.

"We're done. That's the only thing I am thinking about right now," junior Dallas Lauderdale said. "I am sure we won't realize what we accomplished this year until we're real old men, and then we will realize how special this year was. But I can't really look back."

Ohio State, which had started out 1-3 in the Big Ten, played more than a month without junior Evan Turner, the conference player of the year who fractured two vertebrae in his back in early December. Turner and the Buckeyes recovered, winning 18 of their next 21 games. They won four straight to close the season, swept to three wins in the conference tournament, and beat UC Santa Barbara and Georgia Tech in the NCAA tournament.

"It's tough right now, especially with the loss we just had, when we feel we could have had the game," Ohio State junior David Lighty said. "But at the end of the day when everything's over with, you can look back and see that we accomplished a lot of things that people really didn't think that we would have."

Ohio State coach Thad Matta said both he and his team will need some time to recover before they can appreciate the success they had in this dual championship season.

"It hasn't hit me to the point where I think it's over," Matta said. "They're distraught because this isn't where they thought it was going to end."

Matta said he was confident, however, that once this season is placed in perspective, it will likely be remembered as one where resiliency made the difference.

"I don't know if I've ever been more proud of a basketball team," Matta said.

"They had a belief about them that became contagious. I don't know if I've had too many teams that are close to this in regards to just who they were and their work ethic. Every day they'd come in and you just enjoyed being with them. They just continued to win basketball games. These guys, they just had a different way about them, and it's really, really hard to explain."

OSU junior Evan Turner, who might have played his final game as a Buckeye if he decides to head to the NBA a year early, said once the crushing disappointment of the loss wears off, he will regard this season as his best ever.

"I had the most fun I've ever had playing basketball," Turner said.

"I think we grew as a team, and we just had a lot of fun, and to overcome like the situations we had, we proved a lot of people wrong. Just believing in each other was one of the best times in my life. And we did a lot of things to be proud of. Right now, it's tough to go through this, but I feel like we did a lot of great stuff, and we had a great season."

Lauderdale, one of five underclassmen who started for the Buckeyes most of this season, said the heartbreak of losing will pass, but the disappointment will provide motivation for the coming season.

"You have to wait until next year," Lauderdale said. "But I'll remember this feeling."

Contact Matt Markey at:

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6510.



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