Which team had the most impressive run to the Final Four?The question might seem like the sports equivalent of “Which of your children do you love the most?” Any team that wins four straight games in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament has a lot to be proud of. Papa Brackets thinks all the Final Four teams — Florida, Connecticut, Kentucky and Wisconsin — are very special.But conventional wisdom appears to hold Kentucky’s path in ever-so-slightly higher regard than the other schools’. The Wildcats defeated an unbeaten No. 1 seed (Wichita State) and both of last year’s finalists (Michigan and Louisville) en route to Arlington.Kentucky has been great. Despite entering the tournament as a No. 8 seed, it has a 19 percent chance of winning the NCAA championship, according to the FiveThirtyEight forecast model. That’s up from only a 2 percent chance before the tournament began.Still, Connecticut’s run has been slightly more special than Kentucky’s so far. And Wisconsin’s, even more so.The FiveThirtyEight model has a particular way of answering our question. It evaluates teams not in any absolute sense, but relative to its expectations. And it accounts not only for wins and losses (by definition, any team that makes to the Final Four has won at least four straight games), but also for margin of victory.To be more specific, the model calculates not only the win probability for each game, but also an implicit point spread. For example, it gives Florida a 69.9 percent chance of beating Connecticut on Saturday. That translates into Florida being 5.5 point favorites. The model has Wisconsin with a 58.2 percent chance of beating Kentucky, which would equate to the Badgers being favored by two points.How a team fares relative to this point spread affects how the model evaluates it going forward. Why? Tournament results are quite predictive of future tournament results: A team that is terrific in the early rounds often does well in later ones.Occasionally, a team can end up in worse shape despite winning its game. This happens when the model expects a blowout and the team wins by a smaller margin.A case in point is Florida in its opening-round game against Albany. The model had the Gators as 24-point favorites, but Florida won by 12 points (in fact, the game was a little closer than the scoreline implies).What about Florida’s three other wins? It was clear that the Gators were the favorite in each game, but they performed about in line with the model’s expectations — beating its point spread by six points against Pittsburgh and four points against UCLA, and underperforming it by two points in their win Saturday against Dayton. To be clear, the Gators have been great — and the model has them as the plurality favorite to win the tournament. But Florida was a great team going in. It has performed roughly as expected against a relatively easy draw.How about Kentucky? If viewed as a No. 8 seed, the Wildcats have been extremely impressive — not least on account of the quality of competition they’ve faced. But Kentucky was no typical No. 8. The Wildcats ranked first in the country in the preseason AP and USA Today Coaches polls, a factor for which the FiveThirtyEight model accounts. They took 10 losses in the regular season, but they faced a tough schedule; all but two of the losses, both to Florida, came by single digits.Kentucky was badly underseeded to begin with, in other words. The FiveThirtyEight model actually had Kentucky as slight favorites against Michigan, despite the Wildcats’ inferior seed. The Wildcats were underdogs against Louisville and Wichita State, but only modest ones, and both games were close. Kentucky outperformed the FiveThirtyEight point spread by two points against Michigan, four points against Wichita State and 10 points against Louisville.By this standard, both Connecticut and Wisconsin have done more to exceed expectations. The Huskies were the narrowest of favorites against Iowa State on Friday, in part because Madison Square Garden is a de facto home court for them. (Geographic distance from a team’s home campus is another factor that the FiveThirtyEight model accounts for; the author of this article went to the games at MSG for “research purposes” and can confirm that there was a lot of Huskies love there.) But Connecticut also won as underdogs against Michigan State and Villanova. The Villanova win, which came by 12 points, was relatively emphatic.The improvement in the model’s esteem for Wisconsin is partially the result of the Badgers’ upset of No. 1 seed Arizona on Saturday. But it has more to do with the their performance in earlier rounds. Wisconsin thrashed Baylor by 17 points Thursday, and the Badgers beat American University by 40 points in their opening game. On average, Wisconsin has outperformed the FiveThirtyEight point spread by 12 points, as compared with nine points for Connecticut and four for Kentucky.Evaluating teams by their margins of victory is unpopular; it may seem as heartless as rating your kids by their SAT scores. We’re fans of systems such as the Basketball Power Index (BPI) that account for the scoring margins throughout games and not just at the final buzzer. But margin of victory predicts future performance reasonably well — better than ratings based on wins and losses alone do. By that measure, Wisconsin heads to Texas with the most momentum.(Nerd alert: The point spread can be derived through the formula NORMSINV(WINPROB)*10.36 in Microsoft Excel, where WINPROB is a team’s probability of winning.)
From recent stars James Laurinaitis and A.J. Hawk to past greats like Tom Cousineau and Randy Gradishar, Ohio State’s linebacking corps can perennially be discussed as one of the nation’s best.And when it comes to college linebackers past and present, few rival Chris Spielman.“There is no question he is one of the best,” said Jack Park, author of The Official Ohio State Football Encyclopedia. “I can’t imagine anybody picking the top 25 players in football history at Ohio State and not including Chris Spielman in that group.”A Canton, Ohio, native, hype began surrounding Spielman in high school when his play made him the first high school athlete to land his face on a Wheaties box.In 1984, Spielman traded in his Massillon Washington High School uniform for scarlet and gray to begin what would prove to be an illustrious college football career at OSU.Both Park and Jim Karsatos, former OSU quarterback and teammate of Spielman, agreed that Spielman’s intensity set him apart.“Chris Spielman had an intensity as great as probably any football player I have ever studied or known,” Park said. “He had an intensity about him as a player that was almost unequaled.”As a freshman, Spielman wasted little time proving his intensity and passion for the game to his teammates and the Buckeye faithful.“In practice he worked as hard as anybody out there,” Karsatos said. “His intensity was contagious, even as a younger player, and the older guys fed off of that.”By his sophomore year in 1985, Spielman began to establish himself as a household name and a force to be reckoned with on the “silver bullet” defense.The play that sticks out the most in Park’s mind came in a game that year in which Spielman had 19 tackles.It was a game that pinned the Buckeyes against the No. 1-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes in the Horseshoe for what Park called one of the greatest OSU victories of all time.“It was a fourth-down play and Iowa gave it to their tailback,” Park said. “Chris made the tackle and that really started to seal the game.”“Spielman made a lot of big plays when the team needed it the most,” he said.Chris continued to make big plays over the next two seasons, as he finished his college career with 546 tackles, good for third all-time at OSU. He finished in the top 10 in Heisman voting each of his last two years, almost unprecedented at the linebacker position.“On the field, he was all over the place and he had a great nose for the ball,” Karsatos said. “He could make big plays when we needed them and on the sideline he was just as intense and kept everybody up and into the game.”Spielman exhibited his nose for the ball on the grandest of stages, including the 1986 Michigan game. He made 29 tackles that afternoon, the OSU record for most tackles in a game.“They already knew what kind of player Chris was and knew they had to block him,” Karsatos said. “For him to get in on that many tackles in that kind of football game was pretty incredible.”Following his senior season in 1987, Spielman left OSU as one of the most decorated linebackers in program history, receiving the OSU Most Valuable Player and the Lombardi Award, along with being a three-time All-Big Ten honoree and two-time All-American.Retired from a successful NFL career that included four Pro Bowl appearances, Spielman, a recent inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame, now co-hosts a Columbus sports talk radio show.Along with his work on the radio, Spielman has continued to write his legacy in the Columbus community through the efforts of him and his late wife Stefanie establishing the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research in 1998.Since its inception, the Stefanie Spielman Fund has raised over $6.5 million for breast cancer research at OSU’s James Cancer Hospital.“He will always be remembered as one of the really great football players,” Park said. “But I think years from now when people look back and say ‘what is the legacy of Chris Spielman,’ it will be what he has done for other people through the James (Cancer Hospital).”
1. Who will win the quarterback battle? The two are similar in a few ways. Both are dual-threat quarterbacks. Both passed for more than 3,000 yards last year. Both were handed the keys to their respective offenses as underclassmen. “I think [Pryor and Harris] have traveled a similar road,” OSU coach Jim Tressel said. “They both got put in there at an early point in their freshman year. But in [Pryor’s] case, it was the third or fourth game and he had to kind of get thrown in with an older group and learn their way.” 2. Will either team be able to run the ball effectively? Both defenses will be geared to stuff the run. Miami has a solid cache of defensive linemen, led by a genuine freak-of-nature in 6-foot-3, 287-pound senior Allen Bailey, who is not only a probable first-round pick in next April’s draft, but reportedly killed an alligator with nothing but a shovel a few years ago. As for OSU, the Silver Bullets are usually stout against the run. The OSU defense has ranked in the top five in the nation in fewest rushing yards allowed in three of the last five years. Miami coach Randy Shannon said starting running back Graig Cooper will likely miss the game, although ACC Rookie of the Week Lamar Miller appears to be a capable backup. 3. Can the OSU offensive line protect Pryor? The OSU offensive line did an admirable job last Thursday against Marshall. However, comparing the Marshall defensive line to the Miami front four would be foolish. Tressel isn’t taking the Hurricane pass rushers lightly. “They’re very good. They’re veterans, they’re quick and they’re strong,” Tressel said. “It will be a great challenge for our guys.” Although the Hurricanes have a star in Bailey and a few other solid players, the OSU hog mollies should be equipped to handle the task. 4. Who will win the field position battle? The combination of the crowd, OSU’s ability to force turnovers and Harris’ propensity to throw the football to the other team all favor the Scarlet and Gray. But nearly every one of those characteristics could have been said for the USC game last year and OSU lost that contest, 18-15. On the other hand, if the Buckeyes have the lead heading into the fourth quarter, the game is usually over. Under Tressel, OSU is 86-6 when taking the lead into the final quarter. Disclaimer: OSU led USC, 15-10, heading into the fourth quarter last year. 5. Will an unknown player, coaching decision or (gasp!) referee steal the show? Obviously, all three are impossible to predict. But in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, the game was defined by curious coaching decisions and questionable calls by officials. From official Terry Porter’s infamous pass interference call in the first overtime, to Tressel’s decision to run a fake field goal early in the game to Miami’s downright dubious goal line offense in the second overtime, the game was full of judgments ripe for barroom discussion. As for an unknown player stealing the show, for Miami, sophomore safety Ray Ray Armstrong and Ohio State sophomore running back Jordan Hall could provide the difference. Armstrong is big (6-foot-4, 220 pounds), fast and saw major playing time as a freshman. If he keeps the OSU passing game in front of him and reads Pryor’s eyes, his performance will be two-fold: tackling receiver Dane Sanzenbacher over the middle of the field and intercepting Pryor. The diminutive Hall could make an impact as a punt returner. Think former LSU star Trindon Holliday, the 5-foot, 6-inch speed sprint champion who also specialized as a returner for the Tigers. Hall is capable of making a similar impact for OSU. This could be his breakout game.
Tyler Moeller is no stranger to bad luck. Perhaps that’s how he knew more of it was coming when he suited up to play Illinois on Saturday. While the senior defensive back was pulling up his uniform pants, he could feel a tweak on the left side of his chest that had bothered him since partially tearing his left pectoral muscle in 2008. By his own count, he’s partially torn the muscle 10 to 12 times during the last two-and-a-half years. Those injuries never fully healed, and Moeller could sense that it was only a matter of time before it would cost him. “I kind of thought it was a ticking time bomb,” Moeller said. “Something big was going to happen eventually.” Sure enough, something did happen. During Illinois’ opening drive, Moeller tried to wrap up Illini running back Mikel Leshoure. Moeller’s left arm was pulled back violently as the hard-charging Leshoure burst through his arm tackle. Before hitting the turf, he could feel the muscle rip from the bone. As he got up and rushed toward the sidelines, Moeller knew his fate. “I knew it was totally torn when it happened,” Moeller said. “I ran off the field, and the trainers didn’t even have to tell me what was wrong. I knew what was wrong.” Moeller had completely torn his left pectoral muscle, finishing his season and possibly his career at Ohio State. The NCAA must grant him a medical redshirt and a sixth year of eligibility for him to return. But none of that news could dim the radiant smile Moeller wore on his face as he addressed the media on the eve of his surgery Tuesday night, accepting his latest misfortune. “Bad things happen,” Moeller said. “You have to keep your head up and you have to work hard. Then you can overcome everything.” Moeller, who missed all of last season with head injuries he sustained during an attack in Florida, will have to overcome another setback. “It’s really sad for a guy to be able to put so much work into something and have it taken away twice in a row,” defensive tackle Dexter Larimore said. “It is kind of tough for everybody on the team, especially since he was a great player for us and did some great things.” The injury comes just as his career was finally taking off. Before Moeller came to OSU in 2006, he was a relentless pass rusher at Colerain High School in Cincinnati. He spent his Friday nights wreaking havoc in the offensive backfield, recording 15.5 sacks and 29 tackles for loss as a senior. But questions regarding his 6-foot-1-inch, 210-pound stature clouded the outlook of his future. Seen as too big to play safety but too small to play linebacker, Moeller developed into a solid defender on special teams during the 2007 and 2008 seasons. “I wanted to be a linebacker,” Moeller said. “I always had the mentality. I wish I had the mentality to play safety because linebacker kind of beat me up.” During the summer of 2008, Moeller partially tore his left pectoral muscle for the first time. Unable to fix the injury with surgery and too focused on the season to bother with rehab, Moeller essentially played 2008 with only one functioning arm. “I was younger then, so I wasn’t as intelligent as I am now,” Moeller said. “If I could do it again, I would definitely rehab it a lot more.” He made his first career start at linebacker, strangely enough, against Illinois in 2008. He recorded seven tackles, including two for a loss and forced a fumble. Before the 2009 season, Moeller was expected to win a starting linebacker job, even though doubts about his chest problems and size still lingered. But those issues would prove to be the least of his troubles. On July 26, 2009, Moeller was with his family in Florida to celebrate his grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary. He doesn’t remember much else from that night. While eating at Gators Cafe and Saloon in Treasure Island, Moeller was punched in the face by Ralph Gray Decker, 28, of Kenneth City, Fla., in what was described as an “unprovoked” attack by an assistant state attorney. The back of Moeller’s head smacked against the ground as he fell, leaving him to spend the coming days fighting for his life in a Florida intensive care unit. Details of the altercation with Decker remain murky because of legal issues, but on June 3, Decker pleaded guilty to assaulting Moeller and in August was sentenced to two years of probation. He’s paid the Moeller family more than $11,000 in medical expenses. After the attack, Moeller had severe memory loss and trouble speaking. Doctors learned there was bleeding in his brain and had to drill two dime-sized holes into his skull, which now has a metal plate. Moeller said the surgery had him worried for his life, even if only for a little bit. “I was worried in the beginning, going into surgery,” Moeller said. “But after surgery I knew I was fine and was going to be OK.” Even though some doctors suggested he should’ve ended his football career, Moeller’s passion for the game wouldn’t let him stop. “Why would I want to keep playing? Because I love it,” Moeller said. “I love the game of football.” He spent the next few months preparing for his return to the football field. Unable to train for more than seven months, he spent most of his time away from the football team, focusing on his school work. He couldn’t participate in any contact drills until summer practice, but by the time the season started, coach Jim Tressel had a spot for him that would maximize the speed and physicality of the undersized Moeller. Inserted at the “star” position, which is a hybrid between a linebacker and a defensive back, Moeller’s tenacity resurfaced immediately during the season-opener against Marshall as he registered seven tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. It was good enough to earn him Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week. Moeller would spend the next three games harassing the offensive backfield unlike any time since high school, recording 12 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss during that span. But his comeback would be cut short after his season-ending injury against Illinois. And even though the injury isn’t comparable to the one he suffered at the hands of Decker, the two injuries are related. Because of the brain surgery, Moeller was unable to exert himself physically enough to treat the lingering pectoral damage he suffered in 2008, leaving him vulnerable to more damage. He hasn’t bench pressed in two years. The Moeller family has forgiven Decker for his crime. Tyler, who no longer suffers from short-term memory loss, said he’s moved on from the attack. “I don’t really think about it anymore,” Moeller said. “If he’s sorry or not, I don’t really care. I wish him all the best. I hope he controls his inner demons.” The Buckeyes’ loss of Moeller can’t be understated. As one of the most effective pass rushers and leaders on the team, Tressel knows he won’t be easy to replace. “You just feel sick for him because you saw the pain he was in last year not being able to help his teammates and now he was, and now he was having fun,” Tressel said. “So, yeah, it’s very disappointing and obviously it hurts us.” Moeller won’t be able to train for the next three months but he expects to be much more involved with the team this year and help freshman Christian Bryant take over his role at the “star” position. Regardless of whether his career as a Buckeye is over, the ever-resilient Moeller expects to play football again at an even greater level. “I know I can play at that caliber level, and if I can get a medical redshirt, I’ll be better than ever,” Moeller said. “I’ll have a chest to work with and my legs will be stronger.” As unlucky as Moeller has been for the last two years, he refuses to let bitterness consume him. Moeller thrives on confidence, even while on the road to recovery. It’s a road he knows very well.
You didn’t think he would stop shooting, did you? Deshaun Thomas is in a slump. During Ohio State’s final two games of the Big Ten Tournament – wins against Michigan State and Wisconsin – the junior forward shot a combined 12-38 from the field. How does the Big Ten’s regular season scoring champion plan on getting himself out of his recent funk? By doing what nearly everyone who knows Thomas expects him to do: keep on shooting. “I do shoot my way out (of slumps). Just keep shooting. I want one to go down so bad,” a noticeably frustrated Thomas said Wednesday. At this time of the season, though, in a lose-and-go-home situation, can No. 2 seed OSU afford to have a potentially cold Thomas take the majority of the team’s shots? Well, yes and no. Yes if Thomas improves his shot selection. No if he jacks up jumpers similar to the ones he was taking at the United Center this past weekend. “The shots I’ve taken, they’re questionable. Well, some of them,” Thomas said. “(OSU’s coaches said) the bad shots you’ve taken, they’re killing your percentage.” Thomas averaged 17.3 points per game in Chicago and was named to the tournament’s first team alongside junior guard Aaron Craft, the Most Outstanding Player. But he shot 17-47 (36 percent) and 3-20 (15 percent) from 3-point range, well below his season averages of 44 percent and 34 percent, respectively. Tuesday, coach Thad Matta and his assistants began to break down film from their recent conference tournament run. One aspect of their review was trying to figure out what Thomas could improve on to better his shooting percentage. Their solution was fairly simple: for Thomas to stop forcing the issue. “The coaches have told me when a defender flies out, put it on the floor, pump fake, then shoot it,” Thomas said. “I’ve been really working on the percentage because the bad shots are killing my percentage.” Thomas’ teammates haven’t lost any confidence in their go-to scoring weapon. Following OSU’s 50-43 victory against Wisconsin in the tournament championship, in which Thomas shot 6-for-19, redshirt senior forward Evan Ravenel quickly brushed off any doubts surrounding his teammate. Ravenel said Thomas could just as easily “been 18 of 19.” Matta points to the critical shot of the game against MSU in the conference tournament’s semifinal as evidence for reason to be confident in his junior star. With OSU up two points, Thomas hit a jumper from the left elbow with 25 seconds remaining in the contest to all but secure a Buckeye victory. “When we needed one, he got it,” Matta said. It was NCAA Tournament time last season, after all, when Thomas skyrocketed from a capable scoring option to one of the country’s premier offensive players. During OSU’s Final Four run last year, Thomas averaged 19.2 points per game in five NCAA Tournament contests. He was named to the tournament’s All-East Region team following big games against Cincinnati and Syracuse. Thomas’ play vaulted him into NBA Draft talk before the Indiana native decided to return to Columbus for his junior year. Matta said he expects the experience Thomas and his team gained last March and April to pay dividends in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. “We talked about that as well,” Matta said. “Last year doesn’t give you a point, doesn’t give you a rebound, but it heightens your awareness a little bit of what it takes.” Thomas wasn’t the focus of opposing team’s defenses last season, however. Former OSU forward and two-time all-American Jared Sullinger received the majority of the attention from the defenses the Buckeyes faced. Thomas benefited greatly from it, often being on the receiving end of a kick-out pass from a double-teamed Sullinger. “Me and Jared, we played well together, two (big men), we read the defense, we knew when to pass it to each other,” Thomas said. “It was pretty much, pretty easy to score last year because everybody was focusing on him. I was just sitting back, being patient.” It’s different for Thomas now, who has become the player opposing teams like to double down on. “I try to be as patient as I can … Then again, I’m just trying to win,” Thomas said. He’s handled the pressure all season, leading the Buckeyes, and the Big Ten, in scoring at 19.5 points a game. Despite recent less-than-usual performances, Thomas said he is ready as ever to help propel OSU to a second Final Four in as many years. “I feel locked in. I’m just going to be ready. Whatever play is drawn up for me, I’m going to be ready to shoot,” he said. Thomas had, not surprisingly, just finished doing one of his favorite things. “I just got done putting shots up, they were going in. I’m just going to continue with my routine,” he said. OSU is set to take on No. 15 seed Iona at 7:15 p.m. in Dayton Friday. If the Buckeyes can get past the Gaels, they will take on the winner of the game between No. 7 seed Notre Dame and No. 10 seed Iowa State Sunday. With two wins, OSU will advance to the West Region semifinal, and possible final, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
DAYTON – In the middle of an arena packed to the rafters with crazed fans standing anxiously, on a court with defenders eying him and teammates yelling for the ball, Aaron Craft remained calm. The score of the third-round NCAA Tournament game between No. 2 seed Ohio State and No. 10 seed Iowa State was tied, 75-75, with the shot clock off and the contest’s final seconds ticking down. Craft dribbled the ball just outside the right wing, with Georges Niang, a freshman forward, isolated on him. “Give me the ball!” shouted junior forward Deshaun Thomas, who clapped twice after screaming at his junior point guard from the top of the key. “I’m open! I’m open!” roared junior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr., who stood unguarded in the right corner. Craft waved them off. He had run the play coach Thad Matta drew up in the huddle – a pick-and-roll intended to free Thomas for an open look – but Iowa State doubled the junior forward, meaning a big man was left to defend OSU’s rosy-cheeked floor leader. “He made the right read. (Thomas) was going to have to catch it with his back to the basket. I was fine with it. I’ve said from day one, I’ll live with any decision that kid makes,” Matta said. Craft waited until the game clock reached three, dribbled hard to the 3-point line, rose up, and fired a shot. Swish. Following a late desperation heave from the Cyclones, that wouldn’t have counted if it had gone in, OSU had reached its fourth straight Sweet 16, upending Iowa State, 78-75, at the University of Dayton Arena Sunday afternoon. Craft, who scored 18 total points, received a hug from each of his teammates. The fans in attendance – most of whom were Buckeyes fans – cheered and jumped in jubilation. In a West Region where the No. 1, No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 seeds had already been eliminated, OSU remained alive in its hunt for a second consecutive Final Four berth. “I think it’s a great way to win like this. Every game can’t be a blowout. The fact that we won this game gives us a lot of momentum headed to LA,” said sophomore guard Shannon Scott. Waiting for the Buckeyes at the Staples Center in Los Angeles is No. 6 seed Arizona, a squad Matta called “loaded,” and “the best team on the West Coast.” For long stretches of the game Sunday, though, OSU’s spot in the West Region’s semi-finals was in serious doubt. The Cyclones jumped out to an early 7-2 lead, making the Buckeyes look flustered and nervous. OSU settled for contested jumpers on the offensive end and gave up open shots on defense. “Settle down,” Craft barked to his teammates. OSU fought back, going on a 12-2 run sparked by Scott’s play off the bench. The sophomore guard, however, was called for a technical foul after an and-one layup in transition when he tossed the basketball at an Iowa State defender. The Buckeyes’ momentum halted, and OSU scraped into halftime with a 38-36 lead. Out of the break, the Buckeyes looked like they had taken control of the contest. Sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross had a 10-point stretch midway through the final half, pushing OSU to a 69-56 lead with 6:04 remaining. “I think coming off the bench I have an advantage because I get to watch the pace of the game,” Ross said, who totaled 17 points. “I was able to come in the game and set a few screens for Aaron and get open.” Iowa State then rattled off 13 straight points and took the lead on a 3-pointer from the right corner by senior guard Tyrus McGee with 3:24 left. “Their coach had a great game plan with us, pinning us down with their bigs against the basket and getting their guards out,” Scott said. The Cyclones, who had four players in double figures, made 12 3-pointers on the day, including five from redshirt senior guard Korie Lucious, a transfer from Michigan State. “I think they’re probably the best 3-point shooting team we’ve ever played against,” Scott said. While the Buckeyes looked like they were wavering during Iowa State’s second-half run, the players insist they were not. One aspect of the game they did falter in, admittedly, was toughness. Iowa State out-rebounded OSU, 36-22, repeatedly getting second chance opportunities at the offensive end. “For a little segment there, they were the tougher team,” Smith said. OSU and Iowa State traded free throws and baskets in the game’s final minutes. Craft, the game’s hero, was at times the scapegoat for a potential loss, as he missed two critical free throws down the stretch. “I was just trying to stay focused and poised. I did some things down the stretch I normally don’t do,” Craft said. With 58 seconds left and the ball in the hands of Iowa State and the game tied, 75-75, Thomas did something he normally doesn’t do, too. This rare occurrence, however, benefited the Buckeyes, as the junior forward forced a Cyclones turnover, giving OSU the ball back. “People always talk about my defense, questioning it, but it was a great defensive stop,” Thomas said, who led OSU with 22 points. I was on (Niang), and they were running that play all game and they scored four points off of it. So I was like, I know they’re going to run this play, and they ran it. I saw a guy run up and I just went over there and got the ball and got the steal.” Craft got the ball and missed a jumper from the right wing, but Iowa State tipped the ball out of bounds. Following a timeout from Matta, Craft, with the confidence of his teammates, knocked down the game-winning shot. “As long as it wasn’t him on the free throw line at that point, I was like, ‘Man, he’s going to make that shot,’” Smith said with a smile. “Big-time players step up and make plays at the end of the game.” Craft’s reaction to the made bucket surprised one of his teammates. “When we made the shot, he didn’t even get excited. He was just like, ‘Play D! Play D!’” Thomas said. “That’s the thing about Craft, we love him, he works on and off the court, and you need a guy like that on your side.” OSU and Arizona will play Thursday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles with a spot in the Elite Eight on the line.
Ohio State’s junior-forward Mason Jobst (26) steals the puck away from Notre Dame’s sophomore forward Mike O’Leary (19) during a Big Ten conference matchup at the Schottenstein Center on November 3, 2017 in Columbus, Ohio. OSU lost 1-4. Credit: Alex Hulvalchick | For the LanternA comeback effort fell short for No. 16 Ohio State (5-2-2, 1-2-0-0 in Big Ten), as the Buckeyes fell 4-1 to No. 10 Notre Dame (5-3-1, 1-0-0-0 in Big Ten) in the Fighting Irish’s first conference game as a Big Ten school.The Fighting Irish dominated the scoreboard, netting three in the final frame to bury any chances of a comeback for Ohio State.Sophomore goalie Cale Morris stood tall for Notre Dame, making 23 saves. Redshirt junior goalie Sean Romeo stopped 14 shots for the Buckeyes.“At the end of the day you have to score more than one goal to win most times,” head coach Steve Rohlik said. “We had some chances, but again we have to clean some things up.”Six minutes into the first period, Notre Dame senior defenseman Justin Wade hit senior forward Matthew Weis with a cheap shot in the back. Wade’s hit earned him a game misconduct, which caused an ejection, and gave the Buckeyes a five-minute power play. But Ohio State was unable to convert on the man advantage opportunity.“That was pretty disappointing,” junior forward Mason Jobst said. “We just have to get it set up in the zone, they did a pretty good job at not even letting us get set up … we’ll bounce back tomorrow and get them.”The Fighting Irish did not take long to break the scoreless tie in period two, as sophomore forward Cal Burke found a sliver of space between the post and Romeo, and that was all it took to give Notre Dame a 1-0 lead. Senior defenseman Jordan Gross and freshman defenseman Matt Hellickson earned the assists on the play.The third period started with a frenzy of Ohio State chances. Sophomore forward Tanner Laczynski hit senior forward Kevin Miller on a two-on-one in the first minute, but Morris made the tough save. A few minutes later, both senior forward Luke Stork and Jobst missed on a near-open net as Morris was down, and still Notre Dame remained ahead a goal.Notre Dame doubled its lead shortly after these chances on a goal by junior forward Dylan Malmquist in front of Romeo. Ohio State didn’t take long to answer this time, as senior defenseman Janik Moser ripped a one-timer from the point off a faceoff win by Jobst to cut the deficit to 2-1 with 12 minutes left in the game.The Buckeyes never capitalized on the momentum, as Notre Dame scored two insurance goals late in the game to hand Ohio State its first loss in seven games. The first came from sophomore forward Cam Morrison, who hit in a rebound over Romeo off a shot by sophomore defenseman Andrew Peeke.“We had a few breakdowns and that can’t happen,” junior defenseman Sasha Larocque said. “Overall we did play a pretty solid game, we were ready for them, we just can’t be breaking down like we did.”Notre Dame finished the game off with an empty netter by freshman forward Colin Theisen to take a commanding 4-1 lead with 34.7 seconds left in the game.“For the most part defensively we played a pretty good hockey game against a good quality team like that, but when we did break down, you can’t break down like we did for a couple of those goals,” Rohlik said.Ohio State and Notre Dame face off again at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Schottenstein Center.
Ohio State redshirt junior guard Sierra Calhoun launches a shot during the first half of the Buckeyes’ game against Quinnipiac on Nov. 15. Credit: Colin Hass-Hill | Sports EditorThe No. 8 Ohio State women’s basketball team came back from a 17-point deficit to No. 14 Duke midway through the third quarter to tie the game with 9:15 remaining in the fourth quarter. But the Blue Devils (6-1) responded with a nine-point run to pull away down the stretch en route to a 69-60 victory against the Buckeyes (7-2) Thursday night in Durham, North Carolina, in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.Guards Lexi Brown and Rebecca Greenwell each scored 19 points for Duke. The Blue Devils won the rebounding battle, holding a 49-30 advantage. This led to a 36-18 edge in points in the paint.The Blue Devils led by 17 points in the third quarter, but did not score for the final six minutes of the third quarter. The Buckeyes slowly pulled even with Duke. But Ohio State struggled to get its offense going in the fourth quarter, missing 11 of its final 12 shots, and turning the ball over five times in the last nine minutes.Duke held Ohio State to its lowest scoring total of the season. The Buckeyes shot just 32 percent from the field and 28 percent from beyond the arc, while the Blue Devils made 46 percent of their shots and 47 percent of their 3-point attempts.Senior guard Kelsey Mitchell led Ohio State with 24 points, but played inefficiently. She made just 9-of-27 shots and hit 4-of-17 3s. Redshirt senior guard Linnae Harper added 12 points and eight rebounds. The Buckeyes forced the Blue Devils into 21 turnovers, including 12 steals, despite their lack of offensive rhythm. Ohio State never led in the entire game.
Ohio State then-freshman forward Emma Maltais (17) heads back out on the ice to start the second period of the game against Minnesota on Jan. 19. Ohio State won 3-2. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Managing Editor for DesignNo. 5 Ohio State (3-1) lost its first game of the season in the second game of the weekend series against No. 8 Colgate (2-2) by a score of 5-2.Ohio State head coach Nadine Muzerall said she saw a different team than the one that defeated the Raiders last night.“You don’t know why a team can play so dominant yesterday and the first 20 minutes of the first period and then disappear,” Muzerall said. “Against a good team like Colgate, they are going keep coming back at you, so you can’t wait until the third to try and win the hockey game.”Ohio State struck first less than eight minutes into the first period off a strike by sophomore forward Liz Scheppers to give the Buckeyes a 1-0 lead. Senior forward Madison Field and redshirt junior defenseman Jincy Dunne recorded assists on the goal. This assist was Dunne’s third on the season in only four games. Still early in the game, the Buckeyes extended their lead off a goal less than three minutes later when sophomore forward Tatum Skaggs scored her fourth goal of the season in as many games to make the score 2-0. Sophomore forward Emma Maltais received an assist on the play. However, momentum quickly shifted to Colgate as the game moved into the second period.Colgate struck back just 36 seconds into the second period to close the gap to 2-1 when freshman Nemo Neubauerova knocked a shot by freshman goaltender Andrea Braendli with an assist by senior defenseman Olivia Zafuto. Taking advantage of a power play, Colgate tied the game up at two all 5:10 into the second period off a power play goal by freshman forward Delani MacKay with assists by sophomore forward Malia Schneider and senior forward Jesse Eldridge.The domination of the second period by Colgate continued as a goal by senior forward Shae Labbe 14:59 into the second period gave Colgate the lead for the first time, 3-2. Senior forward Bailey Larson got an assist for the play. “It was unfortunate that we gave up in the second, which dominantly, we don’t,” Muzerall said. “We usually dominate the second period, so when we had such a great first period, I was very excited for the second knowing that we usually are in control of it, but Colgate came to win, and Saturday games are always tougher.”Throughout the entirety of the second period, Ohio State was held to just four shots on goal to Colgate’s 14. The Buckeyes outshot Colgate 19-8 in the first period. “I think our first period was great, but then Colgate came out flying in the second period,” Dunne said. “You got to give them credit, they are a national championship contender. They don’t quit, and they don’t give up. I think we were a little on our heels and they took advantage of that.”The Buckeyes continued to lose momentum, as with just 2:10 left in the third period, sophomore forward Coralie Larose added an insurance goal for Colgate to extend their lead to 4-2, marking the fourth goal that Braendli gave up. Larose was assisted by senior forward Bailey Larson and sophomore defenseman Shelby Wood.In Braendli’s first start of her collegiate career, she recorded 32 saves and gave up four goals. “If you look on the scoreboard, that doesn’t tell you everything if you watch the hockey game,” Muzerall said. “She couldn’t see two of the goals. We had way too much traffic and if we’re going to do that, we have to block it. The other two, you have to give Colgate credit. They scored four goals on us this weekend with that top shelf goal shot. Her angling was pretty good on both of them, they were just good shots.” Just over a minute later, senior forward Shae Labbe scored her second goal of the game with an empty net goal to make the score 5-2 and end all chances of an Ohio State comeback. “I don’t think you ever put yourself in a good position when you have to play desperate,” Dunne said. “We were given chances and we just got to capitalize. I think it’s opportunity for us to learn how to play when we’re down, and when we do need an extra goal, what do we need to do to get that.”
Ohio State senior shortstop Lilli Piper (22) fires the ball to first during a double play against Indiana on March 24 at Buckeye Field. Credit: Gretchen Rudolph | For The LanternAfter two wins and a loss against Maryland, the Ohio State softball team will head to Vartabedian Field to take on Pittsburgh at 4 p.m. this Wednesday. The Buckeyes recorded their 20th win of the season against the Terrapins, and sit at a 20-10 record, going 5-1 in the Big Ten. Pitt, on the other hand, has a 5-28 season record and is 2-10 during conference play. Ohio State has defeated the Panthers the past two seasons, including a 5-1 victory in 2018. The Buckeyes hold a 14-4 advantage in the all-time series against the Panthers.Pitt comes in as the winner of its most recent game, defeating North Carolina 14-5 in five innings. The Panthers had lost their past seven games prior to the matchup, scoring a combined 22 runs over the stretch, nine of which came against Ohio on March 19.Panthers sophomore outfielder/infielder Hunter Levesque is having a strong season despite the tough record, recording a team-leading .276 batting average and 16 RBI this season. A strength for Pitt comes with its power. The Panthers have hit 26 home runs this season, four more than Ohio State. Freshman outfielder/infielder Katelyn Pavlick leads the team with six home runs.The major difference between the two teams comes from the pitching. While Ohio State has maintained a 1.81 team ERA this season, Pitt has not had the same success, combining for a 6.92 ERA so far this year.Redshirt sophomore pitcher/infielder Brittany Knight has the most starts for the Panthers with 13, but holds a 2-14 record with a 6.39 ERA, allowing 91 earned runs in 99.2 innings of work.Pitt’s pitching rotation has allowed 39 home runs on the season, while Ohio State’s has allowed seven.Senior shortstop Lilli Piper has begun to heat up for the Buckeyes as of late, coming into the matchup against the Panthers with a nine-game on-base streak. Piper holds a .355 batting average, highest among players on the team with more than five at-bats, and a team-leading 11 stolen bases.Piper currently ranks tied for No. 3 in program history with 41 home runs, No. 8 with 129 RBI and No. 2 with a .403 batting average over her four years with Ohio State.Ohio State goes on the road to take on Pittsburgh at 4 p.m. Wednesday.