After securing a 3-point win in East Lansing on Feb. 14, Michigan State improved to 2-0 against Ohio State this season, knocking the Buckeyes out of the Big Ten Tournament with a 76-67 win Friday in the quarterfinals in the United Center in Chicago.
Usually when the Spartans and Buckeyes play, its close – the team’s had split their previous 22 contest prior to Friday with the point totals of those games separated by just one point – but Friday was Michigan State from the start.
Save for a 2-0 margin in the game’s first minute, Ohio State never led and a cold stretch in the second half allowed the Spartans to assert their will. The Buckeyes clawed back into the game, trimming a 17-point deficit to 65-58 with 2:30 left, but they wouldn’t get any closer.
“They blitzed us a little bit,” head coach Thad Matta said. “They’re defense, we didn’t stay with the system, we didn’t keep running what we wanted to run, we had to move them and we didn’t do a good enough job with that.
“When you try to cheat something against a really good team, they’re going to make you pay.”
That inability to stay within the system, something that was echoed by every player in the post-game locker room, led to a 36-28 Spartans lead at intermission.
Ohio State came out with energy to open the second half, scoring assisted baskets on its first three possessions, but the Buckeyes couldn’t get stops. A Sam Thompson layup with 16:47 left in the game returned the score to its halftime margin at 43-37, but Ohio State went cold for a 5:36 stretch that sealed its fate.
“They played really good defense,” Jae’Sean Tate said. “They obviously had a great scouting report out. Every time we went to set screens they would try to angle us, and I think we just got away from playing Ohio State basketball, too.”
Thompson scored in double figures for the second consecutive game, logging 13 points against the Spartans. D’Angelo Russell scored a team-high 19 while Shannon Scott contributed 13 to make it three Buckeyes in double figures.
During the drought that followed the Thompson layup the Buckeyes missed eight consecutive shots and turned the ball over three times. The damage could have been far worse as Michigan State only extended its lead to 47-37, going 2 for 9 during the Buckeyes drought.
Russell ended the drought with a jumper with 11:10 left to get the margin back in single digits, but a 13-4 Spartans run followed to swell the lead to 17. From there the Buckeyes began their familiar routine of trying to comeback only to fall short.
“A lot of these losses in the Big Ten we just came out and weren’t ready to play,” Thompson said. “I don’t think this was indicative of our season, Michigan State was just better than us today.”
A 10-0 Ohio State run that included five straight points from Shannon Scott trimmed the lead to seven at 60-53 with 3:26 remaining. A Marc Loving three would cut it to five on the following possession, but Travis Trice answered with free throws and Ohio State would not be within two possessions again.
“When we got back in it we were doing what we were supposed to defensively, supposed to do offensively and that happens,” Matta said. “I know it's game 30-whatever but we're a unique team and finally when we got doing what we were supposed to do I thought we were decently effective.”
While the Buckeyes comeback came up short – a refrain for Ohio State’s season – it was the first half that sealed their fate.
Ohio State let the Spartans get anything they wanted inside in the first half as Michigan State scored 20 of its 36 first half points in the paint, going 11-19 inside the three-point line in the first 20 minutes. The Spartans were simply more active offensively, registering 13 assists on their 15 made field goals before intermission while also hauling in eight offensive rebounds and scoring nine second-chance points.
“It was just some miscommunication on our behalf, some things we have to clean up, some things we can clean up,” Marc Loving said of the struggles in the paint. “ They were running the floor extremely hard, you have to give them their credit.”
The rebounding effort gave the Spartans 10 more shot attempts in the first half than the Buckeyes. Ohio State remained in the game thanks to their free throw shooting. A weakness throughout the season, the Buckeyes hit 9 of 11 attempts from the charity stripe in the first half and 14 of 20 on the evening.
Russell got the scoring started with a jumper just 30 second into the game, but that would prove to be the Buckeyes only lead. Back-and-forth play gave the Spartans a 12-6 advantage with 14:51 remaining before a Trey McDonald layup drew the Buckeyes within four. After that basket, which came at 14:24, Ohio State went cold.
The Buckeyes connected on just one field goal over the next 9:08, a layup from Keita Bates Diop. Their foul shooting kept them in the game, but the Spartans opened up a 29-15 lead during that time which saw Ohio State connect on just 1 of 9 shots and turn the ball over twice.
The Buckeyes ended the cold spell with a Thompson layup that Russell followed with back-to-back threes to make it 31-23. Five straight points from Michigan State followed before Thompson free throws and a Scott three pushed the game to its halftime margin.
Sent packing from Chicago by the Spartans, the Buckeyes now must sit and wait for Sunday when it will be announced where and who they will play in the NCAA tournament.
“It’s obviously deflating,” Thompson said. “But we have one more chance to salvage the season, to really leave our mark on this program and that’s what we are going to do.”