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Fans of Ohio State sports are lucky, spoiled even, you could say.
Not only is Columbus home to one of the country’s best football programs with Urban Meyer at the helm, but the basketball team, under the watch of Thad Matta, has developed into a national power.
Over the last five years, OSU leads all schools in the two-sport winning percentage of football and men’s basketball.
The past academic year witnessed a flawed but driven football team go undefeated and a basketball squad, having to replace a two-time all-American and the program’s third all-time leading scorer, come within a game of matching its NCAA Tournament run from a season ago.
As the photo editor of The Lantern, I was privileged to witness each of OSU’s 12 football games in person. I also covered the majority of the basketball team’s contests, including all of the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago and the NCAA Tournament games in Dayton and Los Angeles.
Here’s the best that was on the gridiron and the hardwood in 2012-13 at OSU:
Best game: OSU 73, Arizona 70, NCAA Tournament Sweet 16
Playing in one of America’s basketball cathedrals, OSU advanced to its second Elite Eight in as many seasons at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
The No. 6-seeded Wildcats, coached by Sean Miller, Matta’s former assistant at Xavier, raced out to a 26-17 lead. Junior forward Deshaun Thomas hit a couple 3-pointers to help the Buckeyes claw back to within four points at halftime. Out of the break, No. 2 seed OSU used a 10-2 run to take hold of the contest.
The Buckeyes lead got as high as eight points with 7:42 to play, but an and-one layup from senior guard Mark Lyons tied the game at 70-70 with 21 seconds remaining.
With the ball in his hands less than a week after hitting the game-winner in a third round contest against Iowa State, junior guard Aaron Craft passed to LaQuinton Ross with two seconds left. The sophomore forward and occupant of Kobe Bryant’s locker during the stay in L.A. hit a 3-pointer from the left arc to catapult the Buckeyes past the Wildcats.
Best player: Then-sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller
Thomas made a strong case for himself being the name in this category, leading the Big Ten in scoring and being OSU’s only offensive option for the most of the season. But as much as the junior forward was relied on this winter, Miller was to an even greater extent with the football team.
The then-sophomore set a school record for total yards in a season and was a serious Heisman contender until the trophy’s finalists were announced in early December. In 2012, Miller totaled 3,310 yards and 28 touchdowns.
With Thomas declaring himself eligible for the NBA Draft, Miller is likely to see his name in this category again next year.
Best play: Craft’s game-winning 3-pointer vs. Iowa State
Two plays made by players on the football team came to mind when trying to decide who would win this category.
There was the scrambling run for a touchdown by Miller at Penn State that involved multiple juke moves before a leap into the end zone. And the superman-esque dive by then-sophomore linebacker Ryan Shazier into Wisconsin then-senior running back Montee Ball forced a fumble at the goal line and stopped history (Ball was a touchdown away from setting the NCAA career record).
But neither of those, nor any play made by the football or basketball team this year, were better than the 3-pointer Craft hit in Dayton against Iowa State to send OSU into the Sweet 16.
Dribbling the ball at the top of the key, the junior guard waved off calls for the ball by Thomas and junior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. With Cyclone freshman forward Georges Niang isolated on him, Craft waited until there was one second left before firing a 3-pointer that found nothing but the bottom of the net.
“I hope someday they put a statue in front of our building of him,” Matta said on CBS after the game. “Coaches were telling me he’s exhausted. He’s too tough to be tired. What a big-time shot.”
Best moment: Then-redshirt junior quarterback Kenny Guiton leads comeback against Purdue
OSU’s dream of an undefeated season nearly came to a screeching halt at the end of the third quarter of the Buckeyes’ Oct. 20 game against Purdue in Columbus.
Miller had just suffered an injury, left the field on a cart and exited the stadium in an ambulance. OSU was trailing the Boilermakers, 20-14, and with its best player out, the team’s perfect 7-0 record was almost assuredly going to be handed a blemish.
In stepped Guiton, who did little to help the Buckeyes’ cause until the game was just about over. With 2:40 left and the score 22-14, the then-redshirt junior threw an interception. Meyer grabbed Guiton, who was noticeably distraught.
“I said, ‘You’re going to win us a game,'” Meyer said. “He looked right at me. I think he was down but I think that moment kind of picked him up.”
OSU got the ball back, and Guiton led a 61-yard drive with 47 seconds left that ended with a touchdown pass to then-redshirt junior wide receiver Chris Fields. The Buckeyes tied the game with a two-point conversion on a lobbed throw to then-freshman tight end Jeff Heuerman and won the contest in overtime.
Best underdog story: Zach Boren’s move to linebacker
OSU’s defense had shredded in back-to-back games against Nebraska and Indiana in mid-October. The Buckeyes allowed a combined 87 points in those two contests, and at the heart of Meyer’s concerns about his defense was the linebacker position.
Boren, then-senior and 30-game starter at fullback, had played linebacker in high school and was recruited to OSU to play that position. Sensing that his team needed someone to step up and fill a void, Boren asked Meyer if he could play linebacker during an October practice. Meyer obliged to the request, and Boren responded by helping revamp a defense that allowed just 57 points in November.
The Pickerington native recorded 50 tackles on the season and averaged 8.2 tackles per game in his six games at linebacker, including a career-high 12 in the overtime win at Wisconsin.
“Talk about Zach Boren. You want someone to write a book on, wow, that would be good if you go write a book on Zach Boren,” Meyer said.
Best team: Football
The basketball team can make its arguments: Big Ten Tournament champions, an Elite Eight Appearance and an 11-game winning streak.
The football team only needs to make one, though.
Meyer and his squad literally accomplished everything they could in 2012, winning all 12 of their games and recording the school’s first perfect season since 2002.