BUFFALO — Jared Sullinger and William Buford cited the burn from an early NCAA tournament exit among their reasons for returning to lead Ohio State to the Final Four in 2012.
Will the Buckeyes’ 60-59 loss to Dayton in Thursday’s tourney opener have a similar effect on LaQuinton Ross?
“I don’t know, man,” Ross said. “Jared and Will, they knew what they were coming back to. They had a great system for them. They knew they were going to have players around them. I'm just going to sit down with my coaches and family and see what they say. We’ll go from there.”
As Ohio State turns its focus to the future earlier than usual this March, Ross’ stay-or-go decision looms as the biggest question. The 6-foot-8 junior forward could enter the NBA draft — ESPN projects him as the 28th overall prospect, while other scouting services see him as a late second-round selection — or return as the Buckeyes’ centerpiece.
The departure of Aaron Craft, one of two seniors along with Lenzelle Smith, Jr., will leave an outsized void. But OSU could return three starters while welcoming one of the nation’s top recruiting classes. Its four-player haul is headlined by three of ESPN’s top 27 prospects: Kentucky shooting guard D’Angelo Russell, Illinois forward Keita Bates-Diop, and Pickerington forward Jae’Sean Tate.
Ross said he believes he’s ready for the NBA, adding, “I know I’ll be there one day.”
“Leaving would definitely be hard,” he said. “I’ve put in three long years here. Even going back to freshman year, when I didn’t play as much, I enjoyed being on that team. It was a great experience going to the Final Four. It will definitely be a tough decision.”
Ross averaged 15.4 points and 6.1 rebounds this season. He had 10 points, two rebounds, and five turnovers Thursday.
PLEADING INNOCENT: Ohio State guard Shannon Scott took issue with his game-changing late foul.
With the Buckeyes leading 57-55, less than 30 seconds remaining, and the shot clock waning, Scott was whistled for a foul on a corner 3-point attempt by Dyshawn Pierre. Replays showed Scott hit Pierre’s wrist and Pierre hit three free throws.
“I put a hand in his face,” Scott said. “He shot the ball into my hand. But then the ref saw something else, I guess. I’ll live with that.”
LIFETIME EXPERIENCE: Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins found immediate perspective after the Broncos’ 77-53 loss to third-seeded Syracuse.
Despite being minced by a “buzz saw,” he called the Mid-American Conference tournament champion’s trip to the Big Dance a “lifetime experience.” Hawkins led the Broncos to the 2004 tournament in his debut season at WMU, and this year’s visit to Buffalo marked his first time back.
“We felt going into the game like we had a shot,” he said. “You know it’s a long shot when you’re seeded as low as we were seeded. But you’re going to have to beat a good team somewhere along the line if you hope to advance, and pretty much everybody is good when you get to this point in time.
“But these kids will remember this. It’s not every day at our level these kids get to sit up on a stage. We walked into the locker room yesterday, and there’s five cameras shoved in front of their faces. We don’t get that. So it’s a lifetime experience for them. It’s really special, truly special, and something these kids will never forget.”
Can the Broncos make a return trip next year? They return three starters and may explore a medical redshirt for fifth-year senior star David Brown.
“I fully expect to be able to contend again,” Hawkins said. “Whether or not we get back here again, you know, there are 11 other teams that have something to say about that in our league.”