Too Little, Too Late

Fresh off a disappointing road loss to Purdue that came courtesy of a mini second-half meltdown, the Ohio State men's basketball team got off to a dismal start against Michigan State three days later. The Buckeyes put together a strong second half, but it was not enough to prevent them from dropping their second consecutive Big Ten loss.

EAST LANSING, Mich. – He was so displeased with his team's 43-36 loss to Iowa on Jan. 12, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo told reporters he would be burning the game tape and vowed that his team wouldn't play like that again.

On the same day, Ohio State head coach Thad Matta's team suffered a 75-68 road loss to Purdue that came about largely due to 20 team turnovers. Afterward, Matta offered no such declarations.

Three days later, the Buckeyes headed north to take on the Spartans. Guess which team emerged victorious?

A young OSU team took one on the chin against a more experienced MSU team playing with a purpose, dropping a 66-60 defeat. But before all was said and done, the Buckeyes gave a national television audience a glimpse into what kind of team they could become come tournament time.

Trailing by as many as 21 points in the first half, the Buckeyes (12-5, 3-2 Big Ten) entered the locker room facing a 13-point deficit. The talk at halftime was simple, Matta said: come out and play hard during the first four minutes and try to start cutting into No. 11 MSU's lead.

His players were apparently listening. On their first possession of the second half, senior guard Jamar Butler canned a three-pointer from the corner, pulling his team to within 10 and allowing him to eclipse 1,000 career points at OSU.

"I think that was a big shot for us," Butler said. "It got us going and it got us some energy out there. From there we went on a 15-5 run and that's what got us back into the game."

Butler's shot seemed to light a fire under the Buckeyes, who then used the run he mentioned to pull within three points, 39-36, early in the second half. A deep basket by senior forward Matt Terwilliger capped the run, but officials stopped play in mid-MSU possession to see if Terwilliger's foot was on the line. With play stopped, the officials signaled for a media timeout.

When play resumed, MSU guard Kalin Lucas scored as the shot clock was winding down to push it back to a two-possession margin in favor of the Spartans (15-2, 3-1) and stop OSU's run, which had grown to 25-7 during the previous 7:51.

OSU would counter with a baseline jumper by senior forward Matt Terwilliger, whose foot was on the three-point line, to pull back within three, but a basket by MSU's Raymar Morgan pushed the deficit back to five points.

Although they would whittle it back down to four points at 43-39, the Buckeyes could not come up with the game-changing play they needed to tie the score or take the lead.

After the game, Butler said he was proud of how his teammates did not give up despite trailing by such a large margin so early in the game.

"In an environment like this, you're thinking that guys are going to quit," he said. "I'm proud of all those guys in (the locker room). We kept battling and we got back in the game."

MSU led 32-11 with 3:54 remaining in the first half and a blowout of the Buckeyes appeared eminent, but OSU would close on a 10-2 run to set the score at 34-21 to end the half.

Butler, who finished with a game-high 21 points, scored the final 14 points for OSU as the Buckeyes sought to attack the basket and draw fouls. Six of those points came from the charity stripe.

"I can't tell you how much time we spent getting ready for him," Izzo said of Butler.

He also came out and hit a trey from the corner on the first possession of the second half.

He was the only Buckeye to score in double digits, but OSU got a standout performance by Terwilliger. He finished just 3 of 7 from the field overall, but his eight points tied him for second-best on the team. His deep jumper helped pull OSU to within three at the 15:38 mark, and he hit his second trey of the night less than two minutes later to pull the Buckeyes to within four.

Terwilliger said he saw on tape that he would be getting some open looks thanks to how MSU hedged on ball screens and said he was disappointed he only knocked down three of his shots.

Despite all the problems, both Butler and Terwilliger pointed out that the outcome would have been different had the Buckeyes not spotted the Spartans three touchdowns early.

"I think we were a little stunned to start the game," Terwilliger said. "We just didn't think we could win. That just comes with confidence, quiet confidence, whatever you need. You've got to know in every game that you can win."

The Buckeyes shot 48.1 percent from the floor in the second half after going 9 of 27 (33.3 percent) in the first. Butler said the team tied its offensive performance to its play on the defensive end.

That much was obvious, as the Spartans looked harassed by OSU's zone defense in the second half. However, MSU held a solid advantage on the glass, where the Spartans grabbed 20 offensive rebounds they helped turn into 23 second-chance points.

"We've got to get more tenacity on the boards, more toughness," Matta said. "We're a team that all five guys have got to be down there cleaning it out and when only four go all of a sudden there's an opening and Michigan State does a great job of getting in there. That was one of the biggest keys to our game."

Senior forward and sophomore swingman David Lighty added eight points apiece for OSU, which saw every player who played more than 20 minutes score at least three points. MSU was led by Lucas and senior guard Drew Neitzel, both of whom had 13 points.

The Buckeyes will return to action on Saturday with a game against Tennessee, a team they beat twice last season. Tip-off is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on CBS.

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