MILWAUKEE — With each heavy, soul-snatching step, reality sank in deeper and deeper for Georgia Tech’s D’Andre Bell.
Feelings brought on by the same reality was visibly scrawled on the face of Zachery Peacock, who sat at his Bradley Center locker deep in thought following one of the toughest losses of his career.
The senior forward joined Bell in ending his Georgia Tech career Sunday afternoon with a second-round NCAA tournament loss to Ohio State, 75-66.
“That was my last game, my last college game,” Peacock said, eyes staring blankly at air.
Perhaps it was fitting then, that as the senior sat in a small blue chair with ice packs weighing down his game-weary veteran knees like a pair of plastic-covered anchors, he donned a red T-shirt that simply bared one bold word across his chest: “Witness.”
That’s because, moments before, he and his Georgia Tech teammates were indeed the unlucky bystanders to an end they desperately hoped to avoid.
Losers in the second round for the second time in as many trips to the Big Dance, the 10th-seeded Yellow Jackets (23-13) watched their dream season and recent magical run come to an abrupt conclusion after a pair of Ohio State guards hurt them on the scoreboard.
After streaking into the tournament with three straight wins in last week’s ACC tournament and an opening-round win Friday over Oklahoma State, Sunday’s loss concluded the Yellow Jackets’ season and propelled the Buckeyes (29-7) into a Sweet 16 showcase Friday with Tennessee.
Playing on the brightest stage of his junior season, Buckeyes guard Evan Turner — who some consider college basketball’s best competitor — took over exactly as expected.
Winner of the Big 10 player of the year award, Turner lived up to such lofty billing, scoring a game-high 24 points and hauling in a game-high nine rebounds to keep the Yellow Jackets on their heels, off balance and completely out of rhythm.
“He made us pay,” Georgia Tech guard Iman Shumpert said.
Childhood teammates on a middle school team in Chicago, Shumpert served as Turner’s point guard.
“The kid’s a warrior,” Bell said of Turner. “There were times when his jumper wasn’t falling, but he would make it up some other way. He’d get a key steal or a key rebound, he always did something to keep them in the game.”
Early in the contest, however, it was the Yellow Jackets who stayed in the game by stealing from Turner and outrebounding him. Enjoying a 10-2 run at the start, Georgia Tech took full advantage of a pair of early missed shots from Turner, as well as several quick turnovers.
“(Turner) has had two or three games this year where he had at least 10 turnovers,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt said. “That was something we wanted to capitalize.”
But as the game wore on, the Yellow Jackets were not be able to completely exploit his game-high nine turnovers.
Instead, shooting woes befell the Jackets, as they stumbled into shooting 41 percent from the field in the second half, including a 2-for-12 performance from beyond the 3-point arc. Package that with foul trouble that plagued their biggest stars, and it became almost impossible for the Yellow Jackets to come back from a two-point halftime deficit that expanded quickly following halftime.
Barely seven minutes into the second half, the Buckeyes went on an 18-6 run that was capped by one of four 3-pointers made in the half by Ohio State guard Jon Diebler. After being held scoreless in the first half, Diebler finished with four 3s to help lead to his 20-point performance.
“Because Evan was so aggressive the first half, he drew so much attention and that allowed for some open shots for us and for us to have driving lanes,” Diebler said. “That’s why I think we’re such a dangerous team. We’re a very good basketball team, because he is going to draw so much attention and that just leaves for some easy shots for us.”
It had to help that, offensively, the Yellow Jackets had trouble responding after forwards Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors experienced early foul trouble. Lawal had three fouls going into halftime, but he also had nine of his team-high 11 points. Favors, who went scoreless in the first half, ended up fouling out.
“Being that they are a big impact on this team, we’re not at our best without them, I promise you that,” said Peacock, who routinely rotated time on the floor with Favors and Lawal. “Even with the guys coming off the bench like myself trying to give the team a boost or whatever, they’re a big part of our team. Unfortunately, it was one of those days where it was tough getting the ball inside, so it was hard for them to make plays.
For Peacock and Bell, the days of making plays in a Yellow Jackets uniform has come to an end. That, in and of itself, is enough to even make the biggest of men want to shed a tear.
“Honestly, I can’t even describe it,” said Bell, who returned for a fifth season after missing all of last year with a rare spinal condition. “The further and further I walked away from the court, the harder it hit. I didn’t think I was going to cry and then I sat in this (locker room) chair, some tears started to come and I know when I wake up (today), it’s going to hurt even more.
“This is it. No more for me. The only thing that goes on in the back of my head is I wish I had more time. But my tenure’s up.”