Unfortunately for Ohio State, its third meeting with Michigan State followed the script of the first two.
Despite poor shooting in the first half the Spartans (27-5) controlled their Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal game with Ohio State, much like they did the two regular-season matchups. Ohio State allowed Michigan State to take a 10-point lead in the game’s first eight minutes on its way to an 81-54 win over the Buckeyes (20-13) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Back-to- back threes from Big Ten Player of the Year Denzel Valentine, the latter of which fell just 6:05 into the contest, gave the senior 10 quick points and the second-seeded Spartans a 17-7 lead that would never be in doubt. Thanks to poor shooting from Michigan State, Ohio State was able to pull within five points multiple times throughout the first half and the Spartans took just a 33-26 lead into the break. But it was only a matter of time.
After shooting just 35.5 percent in the first half, things returned to the mean for a Michigan State team that entered the contest shooting 48.8 percent on the season, 13th best in the nation.
The Spartans hit three of their first four attempts after halftime, including a pair of threes, to balloon the lead to 15. Ohio State wouldn’t be within single digits again.
“A conglomeration of things," Thad Matta said when asked what led to the loss. "I was trying to explain, you can’t feel good, you can’t ever feel satisfied in this game. You’ve got to keep fighting and every possession is vitally important and I thought that was one of the big things. Going down seven at halftime I thought we were in pretty decent shape and then start of the second half we get two shots in the paint that don’t go down for us and they score two threes at the other end. Come on, that can’t happen.”
The Spartans were predictably paced by Valentine, though he was able to sit for much of the second half. The senior finished with 19 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists.
Ohio State’s night, however, was encapsulated in JaQuan Lyle’s performance. One night after doing a nice Valentine impression with 22 points with 10 rebounds and 5 assists in the Buckeyes win over Penn State, the talented freshman point guard struggled. Lyle finished with 10 points, and just one assist against five turnovers, catching the ire of head coach Thad Matta on multiple occasions.
After he was called for a charging foul with 2:19 left in the first half Lyle slammed his water bottle to the ground on the bench, causing water to splash all over the court. Ohio State was warned for delay of game as the mess had to be cleaned up, but that defeated body language carried over to the rest of the team.
“Like I said yesterday we’ve got to come out play, smart, play hard, compete and play with heart for 40 minutes and we just didn’t do it from the jump," Lyle said. "Made a late run in the first half and then they came out second half and went on a big run and the game was over from there.”
Michigan State, meanwhile, picked apart the Buckeyes much as they had in the first two meetings. Michigan State forced 14 Ohio State turnovers in total, turning the mistakes into 21 points, while improving its shooting drastically in the second half, hitting 20 of 33 (60.6 percent) after intermission and finishing at 48 percent for the game.
“Denzel Valentine is one of the best I’ve ever seen in this league," Matta said. "What he’s done to us three times is hard to explain because every time we – he could counter so many things. We’ve had some tremendous battles over the years with Michigan State and this is one of those years where they’re better than we were.”
Not only is the loss the Buckeyes third to the Spartans in their last five games – defeats that have come by a combined 61 points – but it’s the fifth consecutive loss for Ohio State in its series with Michigan State.
Three players joined Valentine in double figures as Eron Harris scored 13 while Matt Costello added 12 and Deyonta Davis 12. Valentine sat the bench for the final 5:28 of Michigan State’s win while Tom Izzo slowly pulled his starters from there.
Despite his struggles Lyle was the only Buckeye in double figures. Marc Loving added nine while Trevor Thompson and A.J. Harris each scored 8.
Now the Buckeyes await their postseason fate, the likely announcement of their NIT matchup Sunday night.