If someone wanted to get to know Big Ten basketball, this game was a prime example. Michigan State defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes, 67-58, in a game that almost resembled a wrestling match between two heavyweights.
"It was a strange game. I think both coaches would agree that it wasn't the prettiest game," said MSU coach Tom Izzo. "I just felt like we had a lot of guys that looked tired. ...We lost focus a lot."
In what was their first game at home sine mid-December, the Spartans started slow on the offensive end, in large part due to intense defense by the Buckeyes. The Buckeyes played a matchup zone that the Spartans took a long time to adjust to. Ohio State also implemented a zone press that slowed down MSU's fast break.
For the first 12 minutes Ohio State held the Spartans to only 13 points. The Buckeyes didn't fare much better as they only managed to compiled 17 points. The defense of both teams was relentless. No shot went uncontested, ball handlers were hounded, and neither team could get any rhythm on the offensive end. Ohio State blocked nine shots on the night.
The physical nature of the game epitomizes Big Ten basketball. The game was so physical, MSU senior guard Travis Walton mistakenly described the contest as a smash mouth football game. While watching this game, one could easily understand how Walton could become confused.
"Every time the ball was up, their big men were crashing into our big men. Their guards were smashing us," Walton said. "It was getting a little aggressive out there, which is pretty good, that's Big Ten play."
After the under eight minute timeout the Spartans were able to get some open looks from beyond he arc. Korie Lucious (6 points) and Chris Allen (6 points) hit back to back threes. Kalin Lucas hit two from deep and Raymar Morgan hit a three of his own as well making the score 29-20 MSU. They finished the half up 35-24.
"They knew exactly what we were going to do so we had to start mixing it up a little bit with ball screens for Kalin at the top," said Delvon Roe, who finished with six points and eight rebounds. "That got us a lot of two-on-one on the other side of the court with Kalin penetrating to the elbow for a shot or kicking it to the corner."
In the second stanza, the Spartans attempt to blow the game open early in the half failed because of the continued disciplined play on the defensive end for the Buckeyes. The Spartans' lead hovered around 10 for the entire half.
Once again, Kalin Lucas was a standout for Michigan State. After scoring 14 in the first half, he scored only six in the second, but he was steady in the midst of an extremely physical game. Lucas totaled 20 points and one turnover.
"I think Kalin has improved a lot. I think he is starting to run our team more and more," explained Izzo. "He is shooting the ball a lot better in the last four games than he was before Christmas. That's definitely a major improvement."
Raymar Morgan only hit 5 of his 14 attempts, but he managed to earn another double- double. Morgan finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Coach Izzo thought Morgan's performance was decent, but it could've been a lot better.
"Raymar, stat wise today had a pretty good game. It's his third or fourth double-double," said Izzo. "I just think he has so much more to give, but we played Raymar a lot of minutes the last couple of games."
In a game when nearly everything was not clicking on the offensive end, the Spartans had to make up for it on defense, and they did just that. The focus of Michigan State's defense was placed on the Buckeyes' Evan Turner and Jon Diebler, and the work that the Spartans put into stopping this pair paid off.
"It was a big emphasis. Turner turned into an outstanding player. Diebler has been shooting the great, so that was my assignment to contain him," Travis Walton said. "For the most part, I think we did a great job."
Turner finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds, but nation's eighth ranked team made life hard for him by running multiple bodies at him the moment he made his initially move. The sharpshooter Diebler was a non-factor and ended up scoring seven points while only connecting on two of his 8 attempts.
The defending National Champions are next in line to play the Spartans. The Kansas Jayhawks will be at the Breslin Center on Saturday for a 1 p.m. tip.