Ohio State lost to Michigan State 81-62 last night, but the biggest blow for the Buckeyes came before the game.
About 30 minutes before the contest with the Spartans the team announced that sophomore Jae’Sean Tate would miss the rest of the season as he prepares for surgery on his left shoulder Friday and an anticipated sixth-month recovery.
Tate had been battling the injury for some time and aggravated it in Ohio State’s overtime win over Nebraska Saturday. The Pickerington native gutted it out in that game, recording his fifth double-double of the season.
It’s a devastating injury for Thad Matta’s team.
“Jae’Sean is kind of the heart and soul of this basketball team,” Matta said after the loss. “We challenged our guys, man down and we’ve got to man up. It is what it is. It’s one of those things that you hate, I hate it for Jae’Sean, but with that said we’ve got to find a way to regroup and get ready to go again.”
The coach confirmed it had been a lingering shoulder issue that Tate was dealing with – he had to leave when hit in practice periodically and banged it twice against the Cornhuskers. Matta said that Tuesday it was learned that Tate could injure the shoulder worse if he continued to play and the decision was made to shut him down with an eye on the sophomore’s future.
Tate finishes his sophomore campaign averaging 11.7 points and 6.4 rebounds in 28 starts.
Who’s Next Man Up?
Mickey Mitchell started in Tate’s place, the first start of his career. While Mitchell may become a fine player, he’s not one of Ohio State’s best five and I was surprised Matta didn’t go with Kam Williams to get another guard in the lineup to combat the quicker Spartans.
Matta said Monday that Williams had embraced his role coming off the bench so perhaps the coach wanted to keep that intact, and Williams did match Mitchell with 21 minutes against the Spartans, but was far more productive.
Williams finished with eight points and three rebounds while Mitchell was held scoreless and recorded two boards.
“We’re kind of a shallow bench right now,” Matta said. “We’ve got a lot of interchangeable parts in terms of guys that can sort of do different things. We were a little bit concerned with guys’ minutes and we didn’t get them maybe the breaks. We felt like Mickey is getting more and more experience and he’s going to continue to grow. The hard part for him is we kind of used him a lot of different ways, but we can kind of get him to settle into what we need him to.”
Matta said he considered starting Williams and will rely on matchups going forward to determine his starting five.
What Does It Mean?
In the grand scheme of things this is a disappointing injury to Tate, but not world-ending for the program. The Buckeyes were always building for next year as their entire roster returns and a trip to the NCAA Tournament was likely not going to happen with Tate – and certainly won’t without.
In the short term, it’s devastating. The argument can be made that Tate was the most important Buckeye. Not only was he one of their few consistent scorers and offered a matchup nightmare, he was the heart and soul of the team.
Case in point, Trevor Thompson’s comments on Tate just last Friday:
“He has the type of passion and fire that’s contagious to the team. He’s someone who is pretty much the heart and soul of the team because when he’s going and he’s diving on the floor it makes other people want to dive on the floor like that. Definitely with that and him calling me out, I didn’t have an issue with it because I needed to be called out. He’s stepping up and he’s slowly becoming more of a leader as it goes.”
Without Tate the Buckeyes reverted to the lack of intensity they showed at times throughout the season. This was a team tittering on the brink before this injury, it seems to have pushed them the wrong way.
The loss to the Spartans was just the first of a three-game stretch against ranked opponents as the Buckeyes welcome No. 8 Iowa Sunday before traveling to play at Michigan State to close the regular season.
The key for Ohio State going forward won’t be the results on the scoreboard, but rather the level of effort. Matta said it would be a tragedy if the team packed things up with Tate done for the year.
“That would be catastrophic with a youthful basketball team,” he said. “The one thing we’ve said all along is let’s just be better today than we were yesterday. With that said, we’ve got another game on Sunday and the games are the fun part. Hey, we got beat tonight, we’ve got to pick ourselves up and get ready to go again.”