LOS ANGELES – Everything had been going right for Ohio State. The Buckeyes had an 11-game winning streak. They were shooting 47 percent and averaging 82 points in the NCAA tournament.
It all fell apart in a hurry in the West Regional final against Wichita State.
The second-seeded Buckeyes shot 24 percent in a horrendous first half, and then fell behind by 20 points before their furious rally came up short in a 70-66 loss to the ninth-seeded Shockers on Saturday night.
"Coach (Thad) Matta says one half of bad basketball can end your season and that's what happened," forward Sam Thompson said.
Ohio State improved in the second half, hitting 39 percent from the floor and making 19 of 22 free throws.
It wasn't enough.
The Buckeyes got within three with 2:48 to play. But Tekele Cotton hit a big 3-pointer for the Shockers, while Aaron Craft missed a 3 for the Buckeyes.
LaQuinton Ross missed another 3 and Evan Ravenel grabbed the offensive rebound, but Carl Hall rose up and blocked his layup with 17 seconds left.
Craft's 3-pointer drew the Buckeyes within four with 8 seconds to go, but he missed another 3 with one tick left on the clock, triggering a raucous celebration by the Shockers and their yellow-clad fans.
"The way we shot the ball coming into the Elite Eight and the Sweet 16, man, everything was falling. But today just wasn't our night," Deshaun Thomas said. "Coach said, 'They're going to fall. They're going to fall. Just be patient.' We had great looks, some of them, but they just weren't falling."
Thomas led the Buckeyes with 21 points and Ross added 19. Craft had nine points on 2-of-12 shooting. Thomas missed all six of his 3-point attempts and Craft was 2 of 7 from long range, where the Buckeyes were 5 of 25 as a team.
"We really didn't get very many easy buckets and it shows," Craft said. "They came out firing and we never really kind of regained our balance until it was too late."
Ohio State quickly left the court and returned to a morgue-like locker room. Freshman guard Amedeo Della Valle of Italy, who didn't play in the game, cried.
Other players hid under white towels or stared into space with blank looks on their faces, knowing they had fallen one game short of a second straight trip to the Final Four.
"I wanted to go back to that Final Four," Ross said. "It hurts a lot, especially when you know we had talent to win the national championship. It's a sad feeling to be going home right now."
The Buckeyes (29-8) were in their fourth consecutive final 16, a record for the Big Ten school. But they sure didn't play as if they had that kind of experience on the big stage in the first half.
They twice led by one point in the opening 20 minutes. They tied their lowest-scoring half of the season with 22 points as Wichita State packed the paint and forced the Buckeyes to shoot from the perimeter.
"All tournament our perimeter shot has been falling," Ross said. "Guys got a couple shots blocked and got a little timid."
They were outrebounded 27-17, with the Shockers preventing them from getting second-chance shots.
"They were a beast on the boards," Lenzelle Smith Jr. said. "They sent four, five guys to the boards every time. Those offensive and defensive boards are so clutch. You get those tough rebounds and usually something good happens."
Craft was especially frustrated, having lost three tournament games by eight points combined during his three seasons with the Buckeyes.
"Last year and the year before were one possession games losing by two, and obviously, this by four," he said. "It's tough. It's crazy tough. It's very tough to grasp how important a possession is in the first half and how that can come back to haunt you in the second."