One game removed from a decisive road loss to Illinois that undid the momentum earned in a road win against Michigan, the Buckeyes watched a 13-point first-half lead evaporate and visiting Michigan State earned a 78-67 victory running away.
After establishing an offensive rhythm in the first half that saw Buckeyes moving the ball and attacking the basket, things went much differently in the final 20 minutes as the No. 7 Spartans (16-3, 6-1 Big Ten) seized control.
And according to OSU sophomore guard Jon Diebler, there was one key reason for that: offensive rebounds.
As a team, the Buckeyes came up with just three offensive boards to MSU's 16. The Spartans equaled OSU's total of offensive boards on one second-half possession punctuated by a Travis Walton jumper that made it 57-50 in favor of the Spartans. In all, the Spartans had 19 second-chance points compared to four for the Buckeyes.
"There were times I thought we did a nice job offensive and defensively, but when it came down to it it's not very fun to guard a team for 35 seconds, give up an offensive rebound and have to do it again," Diebler said. "It's frustrating, especially against a team like Michigan State. They're a great basketball team and they made us pay. Having to guard a team like that again that has playmakers on their team, that's frustrating."
The turning point came following a media timeout with 11:45 remaining and OSU ahead 50-48 thanks to a Diebler three-pointer. At the next stoppage of play with 6:50 left, the Spartans held a 59-52 lead.
During that stretch, the Buckeyes (13-5, 3-4) were 1 for 4 from the floor with all their misses coming from deep and they committed two turnovers. In contrast, the Spartans went 5 for 6 and had four offensive rebounds.
"We played one heck of a basketball team today," OSU head coach Thad Matta said. "I thought we did some things very well we just weren't able to sustain what we needed to do effectively to win the basketball game, which is credit to Michigan State."
Particularly in the second half, the visitors solved OSU's 3-2 match-up zone defense thanks to two players. As guard Durrell Summers led the way outside with a game-high 26 points, 6-0 guard Kalin Lucas darted inside the zone and found plenty of wide-open looks.
Lucas would finish with 20 points – all in the second half. He did not start after falling short of some academic goals, head coach Tom Izzo said.
"Lucas started making some big shots," OSU sophomore swingman Evan Turner said. "In the first half we were keying in on Summers because he was on fire, and then when we should show to the corner and let Lucas go one-on-one he made the plays."
After shooting 54.5 percent from the field in the first half, the Buckeyes began to rely heavily on three-point shooting in the second half. Twelve of OSU's 20 second-half shots (60.0 percent) were taken from behind the arc as they were outscored by 16 points. Still, they shot 50.0 percent from deep (10 of 20) for the game and 54.8 percent (23 of 42) overall.
Afterward, Izzo credited one player the Buckeyes are missing as one of the reasons why they could not pull out the victory: David Lighty, who is sidelined with a fractured foot.
"I think one thing is Ohio State right now is short a guy and one guy can make a big difference," he said. "I thought guys missed some shots late. Maybe their legs were gone. Lighty comes back … depth maybe had something to do with that."
The Buckeyes headed into the locker room with a 31-26 lead after a first half of runs capped by a Spartan three-pointer with less than two seconds remaining.
While both teams struggled to get going offensively, the Buckeyes were the first to get it together. Ahead 13-11 with 10:58 left in the first half, the home team put together an 11-0 run that made it 24-11 OSU 7:24 remaining. MSU's Summers would stop the bleeding with a three-pointer, and Buford countered with a mid-range jumper to make it 26-14 in favor of his team.
From there, the Spartans would counter with a 9-0 run that got them back into threatening distance at 26-23. OSU pushed it back to a six-point lead on a three-pointer from junior point guard P.J. Hill, and the home team would not relinquish the lead until the second half.