Brittany Schock / Asst. photo editor
A crowd of more than 300 fans was on hand at the Schottenstein Center Sunday night to welcome back the Ohio State men’s basketball team from their trip to the Final Four in New Orleans. Kansas defeated the Buckeyes in the National Semifinals Saturday, 64-62.
Despite the heartbreaking loss, many came out to show support for the team they have rooted for all season.
Zach Layton, a third-year in consumer and family financing, said attending the event was never a question for him.
“I love my Buckeyes,” Layton said. “They made the Final Four and I couldn’t be any more proud of them.”
Kyle Lanker, a second-year in communication, said making it to the Final Four is an accomplishment that needed to be celebrated.
“They are still going to hang a banner for it,” Lanker said. “It’s something to be proud of even if we didn’t win it all.”
The Buckeyes finished the year 31-8 overall and won a share of the Big Ten title, but came up just short of having the opportunity to play for the National Championship Game for the first time since 2007. OSU coach Thad Matta said that doesn’t change how he feels about this team.
“It’s always hard because you never feel like the season ends the way you want it to,” Matta said. “Like I told these guys last night, I’ve never been prouder of a basketball team than I am of this team here.”
Matta said having the fans gather at the Schott to welcome the team back was special to him and the team.
“It means the world to this basketball team that you all are here right now,” he said.
Several fans in the crowd held signs urging sophomore forwards Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas to return next season while chants for “One more year” could be heard around the arena. While the two players have been non-committal about whether they will return to OSU or leave for the NBA Draft, Sullinger took a moment to thank the fans for supporting the team.
“Thank you for everything,” Sullinger told the crowd. “Coming here after losing and seeing y’all here, it means a lot to not only me, but to this team.”
But while Sullinger and Thomas have a choice to make, guard William Buford, the team’s lone senior, has played his last game in scarlet and gray. Buford said he treasures his time at OSU and told the crowd that his four years as a Buckeye “have been the greatest four years of my life.”
Sullinger and the rest of the team took time after addressing the crowd to sign autographs and give high-fives to some of those in attendance. After making their way through the line of fans, Buford and Thomas turned around and went back through the line a second time. Thomas, the last to leave the arena, blew fans a kiss before walking out.
Many fans said they expect the team to be right back in the national title hunt again next year, regardless of whether Sullinger and Thomas decide to leave.
Lanker said he expects nothing less than another deep tournament run next season.
“I expect the same thing, a Final Four,” Lanker said. “Those are the expectations they’ve created for themselves.”