Recapping the 2013-14 basketball season: The roller coaster ride ends in disappointment

The Ohio State men’s basketball team closed out the 2013-14 season with a 60-59 loss to Dayton in the second round of the NCAA tournament at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, last Thursday.

Aaron Craft #4 of the Ohio State Buckeyes reacts after losing to the Dayton Flyers 60-59 in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the First Niagara Center on March 20, 2014 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Aaron Craft #4 of the Ohio State Buckeyes reacts after losing to the Dayton Flyers 60-59 in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at the First Niagara Center on March 20, 2014 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

The Buckeyes ended the disappointing campaign with a 25-10 overall mark, finished fifth in the Big Ten at 10-8, and advanced to the semifinals of the conference tournament before becoming one-and-done in the NCAA tourney.

Ohio State began the season with an unblemished 12-0 record during the non-conference portion of the schedule that included wins over NCAA Tournament-bound teams like American University, North Dakota State and Delaware. The lone win over a ranked team during that period came against then-No. 17 Marquette, though the Golden Eagles went just 17-15 and failed to make it to any postseason tournament.

Beginning on New Year’s Eve, the Buckeyes reeled off two-straight victories to start Big Ten play with wins over Purdue on the road and Nebraska at home. Ohio State, though, was just getting pulled up the chain along the lift hill to the peak of the roller coaster track.

Reaching as high as No. 3 in the Associated Press top 25 college basketball poll, the Buckeyes ventured to East Lansing to take on then-No. 5 Michigan State. In that game, Ohio State trailed by as many as 17 in the second half and had a chance to win in regulation, but Shannon Scott’s layup just before the buzzer hit the back of the rim. The Buckeyes went on to lose in overtime, 72-68.

Even though OSU lost to a top-five team on the road, things still looked promising afterwards. But then the Buckeyes went on to lose three out of the next four games that included a 71-70 setback in overtime to Penn State at home as the roller coaster headed downhill fast.

To begin the month of February, Ohio State regrouped by winning three in a row and six of the next seven contests that included impressive wins over Wisconsin and Iowa on the road with the only loss during that span a 70-60 defeat at the hands of arch-rival Michigan on Feb. 11 at Value City Arena.

With a record of 22-6, the Buckeyes went on a two-game road trip to take on Penn State and Indiana and once again the roller coaster ride took a plunge. Ohio State lost for the second time during the season to the Nittany Lions, and it was the first time Penn State has completed the season sweep since the 1997-98 campaign.

The Buckeyes didn’t fare very well in Bloomington as well, losing to the Hoosiers on 72-64 on March 2. Ohio State led 20-12 in the first half before IU went on a 16-0 run and never looked back.

In the final regular season game and the final home game for two seniors, Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr., the No. 24 Buckeyes knocked off No. 22 Michigan State, 69-67, at Value City Arena in Columbus.

To start the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament, Ohio State was tabbed as the fifth-seed and had to play No. 12-seed Purdue in the first round, winning 63-61 as Terone Johnson misfired on a buzzer-beating three-pointer and the Buckeyes held on.

In the quarterfinals against No. 4-seed Nebraska, Ohio State led for almost the entire first half, but the Cornhuskers keep plugging away as Shavon Shields scored layup and Ray Gallegos hit a jumper to send Nebraska into halftime up 31-28.

Early in the second half, LaQuinton Ross hit a jumper to make it 36-30, but a 12-0 Nebraska run gave the Cornhuskers an 18-point advantage with 13:45 to play.

Slowly, the Buckeyes got back in the game.

Trailing by 10 with less than 10 minutes to go, Ohio State went on a 12-4 run capped off on an alley-oop dunk from Shannon Scott to Sam Thompson with 4:39 left that cut the Huskers’ lead down to 58-56.

Ross, who scored 26 points and pulled down 13 rebounds, connected on two charity-stripe tosses with 58 seconds to play to give OSU the lead for good.

Sadly, that was the last win of the season for Ohio State as the Buckeyes lost in the semifinals to Michigan, then five days later dropped a heartbreaking decision to Dayton in the second round of the NCAAs.

Yes, the 2013-14 season was very disappointing. It was up-and-down all year and Ohio State was not very consistent, especially when it came to shooting the ball.

Let’s take a look at Ohio State’s top players and team stats.

– Aaron Craft –

A four-year starter at point guard, Aaron Craft finished his four-year basketball career at Ohio State as the program’s all-time leader in assists and steals. Craft also finished fifth all-time in the Big Ten in assists and became the conference’s leader in steals earlier in the season.

While Craft was a terrific on-ball defender, his offensive numbers never really improved in his four years. In fact in some ways, they actually got worse. As a freshman, Craft averaged 6.9 points while shooting 46.1 percent (83-180) from the floor and 37.7 percent (26-69) from three-point range. During his sophomore season, Craft knocked down 50.0 percent from the floor (115-230) and 35.9 percent (23-64) from beyond the arc to average 8.8 points per outing.

But as a junior and senior, Craft was 242-of-548 (44.2%) from the field and 43-of-123 (30.1%) from three-point range. His 16 made threes and 53 attempts during the 2013-14 season were career lows. During his four years, Craft averaged 4.7 assists per game, but his 2.6 turnovers per contest this past season were a career high.

As the stats show, Craft not only regressed as a shooter, but he also had his share of mental mistakes and miscues.

2013-14 Stats: 9.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 2.5 steals per game.

– Lenzelle Smith Jr. –

Smith Jr. played sparingly as a freshman before cracking the starting line-up as a sophomore. Like Craft, Smith Jr. didn’t improve as a shooter as he college career proceeded. During the 2011-12 campaign, he hit 47.3 percent (88-186) from the field and 37.8 percent (31-82) from downtown. But those numbers declined during his junior and senior years as well. Smith Jr.’s 42.6 percent from the floor and 33.1 percent from beyond the arc in 2013-14 were career lows.

2013-14 Stats: 9.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 2.5 steals per game.

– LaQuinton Ross –

Seeing action in just nine games as a freshman before playing a key role off the bench as a sophomore, this past season Ross was a starter essentially replacing Deshaun Thomas, who left a year early to enter the NBA Draft.

While his final statistics were good, it wasn’t exactly a breakout year for Ross, who was probably more known for his altercations than his play on the court.

While he did get more playing time and took a lot more shots this past season, Ross regressed as a shooter, too. As a sophomore reserve, he knocked down 46.8 percent (110-235) from the floor and 38.9 percent (35-90) from beyond the arc. As a junior starter, Ross shot 44.7 percent (184-412) from the field and 35.3 percent (42-119) from three-point range.

After averaging nearly 21 points in his last six games before the NCAA Tournament that included a career-high 26 points in the win over Nebraska in the Big Ten Tournament, Ross was a no-show against Dayton, shooting just 5-of-12 from the field and 0-of-3 from three-point range for 10 points against the Flyers.

2013-14 Stats: 15.2 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.

– Amir Williams –

Junior center Amir Williams is, quite frankly, and enigma. He’s a former McDonald’s All-American who baffles most Buckeye fans. One thing’s for sure, Williams has been consistently inconsistent.

During Big Ten play, Williams’ best game was the overtime loss to Michigan State when he scored eight points with 12 rebounds in 35 minutes of action. But only twice did Williams see more than 30 minutes of court time during conference action. The second instance came at Illinois when Williams posted seven points and nine rebounds in 31 minutes against the Illini.

Since Dec. 31, a total of 22 games, Williams scored in double figures just four times. Though he only averaged 23.5 minutes per game, there were many times when Williams was ineffective or in foul trouble and spent most of the game on the bench as Matta opted to play small-ball.

Against Purdue in West Lafayette, Williams had just six points and three rebounds in 14 minutes. In Lincoln versus Nebraska, he played 13 minutes and had four points and three rebounds. At Penn State, Williams logged just 12 minutes and totaled two points and zero rebounds. Against Dayton, he posted zero points and six rebounds in 18 minutes.

The thing is, most of the time Williams looked like he’s just going through the motions, playing without any intensity. There were times against Dayton that he would set a screen here, then set a screen there, but he didn’t seem engaged. He didn’t try to get open, and it seemed like he didn’t want the ball.

2013-14 Stats: 8.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game.

Team Stats:

For the 2013-14 season, Ohio State averaged just 69.5 points per game, the third lowest output in Thad Matta’s 10 years as head coach. In 2007-08, the Buckeyes netted 68.9 points per outing and failed to make the NCAA Tournament that season (but won NIT). In 2009-09, OSU averaged 66.8 points per game and went on to lose to Siena in the first round of the NCAAs.

See a pattern here?

But Ohio State’s 45.0 percent (843-1875) shooting from the field and 32.4 percent (200-617) from three-point range this past season are the lowest numbers since Matta took over as head coach.

Here’s another interesting stat. For the 2013-14 season, the Buckeyes averaged just 12.0 assists per game. That’s by far the lowest total in the Matta era. Twice, two Buckeyes squads averaged 13.3 dimes per contest, while the other seven teams under Matta averaged at least 14 assists. Granted, assists are fairly subjective, much like the scoring in baseball on whether it’s a hit or an error. But poor field goal shooting will lead to a lower assist count and it also tells me that OSU had to work a lot harder to get buckets.