Playing without a player that has been called the heart of the team, Ohio State battled admirably against No. 6 Michigan State Tuesday night, but couldn’t sustain their strong start without Jae’Sean Tate and fell to the Spartans 81-62.
Tate was officially ruled out 30 minutes before the game and will undergo season-ending surgery on his left shoulder Friday.
Without the sophomore, who had been averaging 11.7 points and 6.4 rebounds, it took everything the Buckeyes had to just keep pace with Michigan State early. Thanks to hot shooting from three, however, the Spartans controlled the game.
A three from Kam Williams pulled Ohio State within one and free throws from Keita Bates-Diop on the ensuing possession gave the Buckeyes a 25-24 lead with 7:24 left, their last advantage of the night. Ohio State missed nine straight field goals after the Williams three, and while the Buckeyes scored six straight from the line during a 6:03 field goal drought, it allowed the Spartans to take control.
A pair of threes from national player of the year candidate Denzel Valentine – two of seven in the first half for the visitors – swelled the Michigan State advantage to 33-27 and the Spartans took a 36-31 lead into the break despite committing nine fouls and four turnovers.
“We did not do a good job defensively in terms of what we were supposed to do,” Matta said. “They were crossing underneath and we were running into each other, things like that that can’t happen. First half, I told our guys, ‘Hey, we’re down five and they’re 7-for-10 from 3, we’re in pretty good shape here. They kept making shots at an alarming rate and we didn’t make the adjustments. When a guy hits a couple you kind of say to yourself, ‘Hey, he’s not going to hit this on me,” and we didn’t do that.”
It was a typically solid performance from Valentine as the Buckeyes struggled to contain him despite the best efforts of Bates-Diop, the primary defender on the Spartans senior. Valentine finished with 17 points on 4 made threes and added 8 assists and 5 rebounds. When Ohio State was able to force the ball out of Valentine’s hands it was usually to the night’s true star, Bryn Forbes.
Forbes connected on seven threes himself, four of which were assisted by Valentine, and totaled a game-high 27 points. He and Valentine powered Michigan State, who entered the contest with a league-best 42.4 percent mark from distance, to a 14 of 22 (63.6 percent) night from three. Prior to Tuesday’s game the most threes Ohio State had allowed this season was 13, though the Spartans also hit 14 of 22 against Michigan this season.
“Forbes was brilliant tonight, deserves every bit of credit he can get,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said after the game, adding that he was disappointed in his team’s overall performance on a night it won by 19.
A fade-away three on the Buckeyes first possession of the second half from JaQuan Lyle as the shot clock was expiring pulled the within one possession at 36-34, but Forbes answered with one of his many threes and Ohio State would not be within one score for the final 18:39.
Ohio State’s couldn’t maintain the energy and effort it had early, perhaps a product of rallying around Tate, and faded in the second half to one of the best teams in the country.
“I mean, everybody knows Jae’Sean is our guy, our tough guy; the guy to pick us up when we’re down, you know, make big-time plays when we need it,” Lyle said. “He wasn’t there tonight but like coach Matta said before the game, one man down, next man up. I think first half we did a good job playing hard, playing tough, but then second half when Bryn Forbes started hitting shots we just all starting hanging our heads and I won’t say quit, but let the game go.”
The Spartans, meanwhile, got hot in the second stanza.
The three from Forbes kicked off a stretch of six straight possessions with a score as the Spartans hit 6 of 7 shots and rebounded their lone miss. That allowed Tom Izzo’s team to build its first double-digit lead of the night, a 50-40 advantage that came when Eron Harris stole the ball and finished in transition with 15:51 left.
“It’s disheartening to let a team make as many shots in a row, consecutive possessions where they’re scoring,” Loving said. “It doesn’t matter what stage it’s on, you have to have some sense of pride of you want to get this next stop. When they’re still getting buckets you just have to dig deeper.”
A jumper from Williams in transition would cut the lead back to seven with 13:54 remaining and brought the crowd of 14,257 to its feet, but Valentine and Forbes answered with back-to-back threes. Ohio State would again cut into the advantage with free throws but another three from Forbes put the lead in double figures for good with 9:16 remaining.
The Spartans coasted from there and set the final margin on an alley-oop dunk off the backboard from Alvin Ellis III to Matt Van Dyk.
The Buckeyes struggled to move the ball offensively, finishing with just four assists, and turned the ball over 10 times. Loving paced the Buckeyes offensively, scoring 19 behind 10-of-10 shooting from the free throw line. JaQuan Lyle was the only other Ohio State player in double figures with 16.
Already shorthanded without Tate, the Buckeyes saw both Lyle and Mickey Mitchell leave the game and receive treatment on the bench, though both would return. Mickey Mitchell started in place of Tate, the first of his career. The freshman finished scoreless with two rebounds.
Things don’t get easier for Ohio State as the Buckeyes host No. 8 Iowa Sunday at 4 p.m.