BOISE, Idaho — From the polos on the support staff to the bags in the locker room, Ohio State looked like it wanted to go back in time to right a wrong.
Instead, all the Buckeyes got to do Saturday night was relive exactly what happened to them the last time they faced Gonzaga. And even if the flashback only lasted for a couple of minutes, it wound up being long enough to end their season
Give coach Chris Holtmann credit for trying out a motivational gambit. Definitely tip a hat to Ohio State for the way it battled back following a disastrous couple of minutes. But in offering reminders of the PK80 tournament in November, all Ohio State got was an unwelcome return of a team that didn’t come prepared for the big stage and got another lesson from Gonzaga in a 90-84 loss in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
And let’s be clear about one thing: There’s absolutely no shame in bowing out of the Big Dance at this stage for a team that was never supposed to be in it in the first place this season.
One other reminder: Gonzaga is an established program with no shortage of postseason experience, and it has the kind of roster Holtmann needs some time to build.
There was plenty of evidence since November that Ohio State is on the right track, and it’s potentially even well ahead of schedule thanks to the remarkable resurgence Holtmann helped produce. There was even a much better version of the Buckeyes bubbling beneath the surface on Saturday evening at Taco Bell Arena, and it showed up for most of the second half. But ultimately Ohio State was buried by the deep hole the other guys created for it during the opening minutes of the game.
The missed layups. The early turnovers. A defensive rebound that a teammate knocked loose from the Buckeyes that Gonzaga promptly turned into a dunk. All of it was uncharacteristic of the group that bounced back from that early loss to the Bulldogs to become one of the best teams in the Big Ten.
So, Gonzaga got another win over the Buckeyes, and it ended Holtmann’s dynamic debut year with the program. But anybody remotely affiliated with the program, from the coaching staff to the players to the fans, would have gladly signed up for a season that only included nine losses — with the Zags and Penn State combining for five of them — and a berth in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The way Ohio State clawed back from that 15-0 deficit to start the game to eventually take a second-half lead should go down as another example of the kind of competitive spirit Holtmann has cultivated in his program.
That was absolutely, without a doubt, unquestionably a successful year for Ohio State. And while it can be disappointed that it came to an end without that coveted revenge for the PK80, the next time travel figures to go much better for the Buckeyes.
They are heading to a bright future. And now Ohio State can get to work on it and burn those PK80 polos.