CINCINNATI -- As the clock ran out on the University of Connecticut Saturday, five freshmen were on the floor of Riverfront Coliseum.
Donyell Marshall, Brian Fair, Kevin Ollie, Rich Ashmeade and Donny Marshall finished a 78-55 loss to Ohio State. It was a short look at UConn's future, a look at life without seniors Rod Sellers and Chris Smith.
The transition wasn't lost on Sellers, who called the freshmen together when he left the game with 52 seconds left and was replaced by freshman Nantambu Willingham.
"I told them that we lost but let's go out with pride and continue to play hard," Sellers said. "This is going to be the team of the future. Smitty and I did our share, now it's time for you to do something."
Sellers was forced to sit out UConn's 86-65 victory over Nebraska in the first round Thursday night. The NCAA suspended Sellers one game for what it called "flagrant misconduct" against Duke's Christian Laettner in the Midwest Regional semifinals last season. After diving for a loose ball, Sellers landed on top of Laettner, pinning him on his back. Sellers elbowed Laettner in the face and then used his forearm to slam Laettner's head to the floor twice.
But Sellers got a final chance to play Saturday and it seemed he had put the incident behind him. Sellers went out with a 12-point, 13-rebound performance.
"At least I got my chance to play," Sellers said. "I went out and tried to play as hard as I possibly could. Things just didn't go our way."
More decisions for Smith Smith, who surpassed Tony Hanson as UConn's all-time leading scorer earlier in the season, finished his career with 2,145 points.
It's time for Smith, projected as a possible late first-round selection, to look ahead.
Because he did not finish on a particularly high note, Smith may need to attend the Orlando All-Star Classic in Florida next month to improve his position. Smith has already been invited to Orlando. UConn coach Jim Calhoun said he will meet with Smith soon to discuss his options.
"This is just off the top of my head but I would think he needs to go to Orlando," Calhoun said. Worn out Jamaal Brown said during the second half Ohio State could see fatigue in UConn. "You could really see it at the foul line when some of their big guys were bending over and their shirts were out," Brown said. "We forced them to play defense for 25, 30 or 35 seconds when we had the ball. We noticed they weren't getting to spots on the floor or up and down the floor as fast as earlier in the game. I think we just wore them down."
Standing up for himself Willingham explained the background to a technical foul that was called on him with 22 seconds left: "That [ Lawrence] Funderburke kept saying, `This game is over. It's all over.' Then he started cursing me. I yelled right back at him and got the T. I wasn't going to take that stuff from that guy." ... UConn was 0-for-10 from three-point range. The last time they went without a three-pointer was Nov. 29, 1990 against Yale, when they were 0-for-8.
Positioning themselves North Carolina's Eric Montross and Alabama'a Robert Horry were colliding often. A right elbow from Horry caught Montross in the jaw in the second half and Montross fell to the floor. Both players said Horry's elbow was unintentional. "Ninety-nine percent of the time, those kind of things aren't done on purpose," Montross said. "When you're as big as me [7 feet, 264 pounds], you get used to them."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun