But the Buckeyes, who are fighting for placing in the CCHA standings as well as their NCAA tournament lives, could not do any better while finishing a two-game series Saturday afternoon in Munn Ice Arena. Jeff Petry's power-play goal with 3:47 to go gave the Spartans a 2-1 win in front of 5,721 fans on Hockey Day in Michigan.
Markell, less than pleased after his team's initial effort against a depleted Michigan State team, was not feeling any better after Saturday's loss that will severely damage the Buckeyes' postseason hopes.
"About the same," Markell said of his team's effort. "(Michigan State) played hard. They're a good team. They came and outcompeted us this weekend. It's a heck of a learning lesson for us. It's very humbling for our young guys."
The Buckeyes held the last spot on the good side of the bubble in the PairWise rankings that determine NCAA tournament eligibility going into the day, but they surely will fall below the bar once the dust settles on Saturday's action. Ohio State (18-10-4, 11-9-4-3) also entered fourth in the CCHA standings a point ahead of Alaska, a status that is pending the Nanooks' result Saturday night at Western Michigan.
For the second night in a row, the Buckeyes' didn't bring their best physical game and in fact put less pressure on the Spartans (9-18-5, 6-14-4-3) than they did the night before. Michigan State outshot the Buckeyes 35-34.
"We have to find a way to get back to what we're good at, and tonight we didn't display that," captain Peter Boyd said. "I don't think there's any excuses for it. I don't think our mind-set was right."
When the Buckeyes did get something going, Michigan State goaltender Jeff Lerg was there, often spectacularly. The decorated Lerg, a senior All-American who was the 2006-07 national player of the year, made 33 stops to give him 69 on the weekend.
"We had to get greasy goals, but we weren't willing to pay the price for that," Boyd said. "He was the series changer for sure."
The only Buckeye to beat Lerg was defenseman Shane Sims, who scored 1:02 into the second period by taking a D-to-D pass at the right point from Chris Reed before shooting through traffic to score.
The tally answered a first-period goal by the Spartans, who scored just 4:24 into the game. Brett Perlini, who earned his first career point and goal Friday night, retrieved Trevor Nill's dump in deep in the right corner before feeding Joey Shean at the right hashmark, and the sophomore beat Buckeye goalie Dustin Carlson clean over the glove for his second career goal.
The winner came at 16:13 of the third, a period in which MSU outshot the Buckeyes 10-7. The Spartans' power-play goal came when sophomore Jeff Petry beat Carlson through a screen from the right point.
"We needed it," said Lerg, who was in net when the Spartans won the national title in 2007. "We've been kicked down all year and we've had negative after negative pile up on us. For two big wins in a row and to do it the way we did it – a nice, gritty win tonight – it's huge for this team."
In between the tallies were a plethora of chances for each team, including two Michigan State goals that were waved off that drew jeers for referees Stephen McInchak and Dean Sanborn from the home crowd.
Lerg made two sterling stops while MSU was on the power play, denying Zach Pelletier late in the first period when he was alone in front on a feed from Zac Dalpe and doing the same with the right pad on a breakaway chance by Patrick Schafer in the third period.
His best save didn't even go down officially, as he dove to his right, stacked his pads and snatched Sims' chance out of the air with his glove late in the second – just a moment after the whistle blew because the Buckeyes were in the crease.
Carlson, who was fantastic for the third straight game while making 32 saves, had to make his own highlight-reel stops, the best of which came with 2:06 to go in the second period when he somehow got in front of Matt Schepke's close shot on a feed from Brock Shelgren behind the net.
The Buckeyes looked to be in trouble at 8:44 of the third period when Reed took a two-minute hooking penalty while the ref had his arm up for a delayed five-minute major call and game disqualification on Mathieu Picard for hitting from behind. Carlson had to make just two saves over the five minutes before Boots' penalty at 15:15 led to the Spartans' winner.
"We took some dumb penalties that (made us unable) to get any kind of jump and they cost us again this weekend," Markell said.
Boots was also the guilty Buckeye on a spearing call last Friday against No. 2 Notre Dame that led to the Fighting Irish's game-tying and -winning power-play goals.
"It's tough to swallow," Markell said.
Ohio State, who has just four games left in the regular season, hosts No. 4 Michigan in Value City Arena on Feb. 20-21.