In the locker room following Ohio State’s 76-73 loss to Tennessee, the Buckeyes did their best to explain how a team who looked to be in prime position was suddenly packing to go home.
Center Dallas Lauderdale, the Buckeyes’ post presence, seemed to be taking it the hardest. Even after the questions had ended for the Solon, Ohio, native, he remained fully dressed in his uniform, shoes tied with his hands resting on his thighs as he stared blankly from his locker.
He possibly came to the realization that the Buckeyes were not only beat, but beat badly in the two areas that Lauderdale himself excels at.
Defense and rebounding were the Achilles’ heel for the Buckeyes on Friday night and in the end it cost them a chance at the Final Four.
“We just didn’t get it done,” Lauderdale said. “We didn’t get the rebounds. They were going to get the ball. They were attacking us down low.”
The final score wasn’t indicative of how the game actually went, as scoring and rebounding for Tennessee came at will.
Defensively there was a bad sign early when forward David Lighty left the game with 13:43 left in the first half after picking up his second foul. Under Matta, two fouls in the first have usually lead to spending the remainder of the half on the bench.
Even so, the Buckeyes were still able to manage a three-point lead at halftime. With arguably their best defender back for the second half of play, it appeared that OSU would be able to put the clamps down on Tennessee’s offensive attack.
However, Tennessee’s Wayne Chism and the rest of its tall, lean athletes were relentless. The Vols began to penetrate and get to the hoop seemingly at will, and when they would miss, they would get the rebound. They finished 25-45 inside the paint.
“We just didn’t stop them,” sophomore William Buford said. “They were driving and kicking and getting to the rack. They’re real big and real good athletes.”
The Volunteers finished with 50 points in the paint, with 22 of those from Chism. The senior was said to be a concern because he could bring OSU’s Lauderdale out on the perimeter to play defense. Instead, Chism did his work down low late in the game after having a pedestrian first half.
“The offensive glass was something we did a fairly good job on the last couple games and they killed us there,” junior Jon Diebler said. “And our defense wasn’t there. There were a lot of things we could have done better. As a unit we didn’t have it.”
A team can often get beat in the lane, like OSU did on Friday, when it tries to defend the perimeter. But Tennessee shot poorly all night, failing to make a 3-pointer in the second half. The Volunteers even airballed a few open looks, but seemed to corral every offensive rebound.
The Volunteers had a 41-29 advantage over OSU in rebounding, but the offensive rebounds were what helped lead them to the win. Tennessee had 20 offensive rebounds, in comparison to OSU, who only had 16 defensive boards. The Buckeyes’ lack of size affected them on the boards.
The Volunteers didn’t take their final lead of the game on a jumper or a great offensive play, but rather a tip-in by Brian Williams after a missed shot.
“They were more aggressive on defense in the second-half than we were,” Buford said. “We just didn’t bring it tonight. We didn’t stop them. We didn’t play our game.”