Despite a furious late rally, a lay-up attempt to win it, and then overtime, Ohio State suffered their first loss of the 2013-14 season. That resurgent comeback came in a way that overshadowed some of the major issues that Ohio State faced throughout the game, specifically on offense. What did Michigan State do to hold the Buckeyes to 38 points through nearly 33 minutes of play?
Specifically, I want to delve into why the Ohio State offense struggled against the Michigan State defense, and vice versa.
The Spartan defense against the Ohio State offense
Quite simply, they forced turnovers. Coming into the game, Ohio State was third in the Big Ten in turnovers per game at only 10.3. Michigan State forced 21 turnovers and converted those turnovers into 26 points. That's the game right there. The Spartans were able to accomplish this through a pretty simple, solid defensive scheme. They switched on nearly every screen, cut off ball penetration at all costs by packing the paint, and kept active hands in passing lanes so to defend kick outs.
Michigan State is one of the most experienced teams in the country, and they certainly played like it. With disciplined rotations, a congested paint on drives, and the use of their length to contest jump shots, this defense was always going to be a tough matchup for the Buckeyes. Ohio State and its two point-guard attack is a very drive-dominant team, that relies on both layups (why they shoot 54% on two-point attempts, which is 20th in the country), and kick outs to three pointers – which take up nearly 36% of their attempts.
These excellent rotations and drive cut offs were born out of the time of possession statistics. Ohio State's offensive possessions were much longer than normal. Up until the 7:14 mark (when the score was 55-38), the Buckeyes had 51 possessions in the game, and were averaging 21.2 seconds-per-possession. This is much higher than their typical 17.1 seconds-per-possession average. In fact, that 21.2 mark would be the second highest in the NCAA this season. Ohio State had to work hard for their buckets to that point, and only scored .75 points-per-possession (PPP) during the time, a considerably lower number than their 1.13 PPP average this season. If there is a stretch where Ohio State lost the game, it's during this 33 minute stretch.
While undoubtedly some of this can be chalked up to bad luck – for instance, Ohio State was snakebitten from three, only going 4 for 18 – I believe that this was mostly the doing of a sound Michigan State defense that deserves credit.
The Spartan offense against the Ohio State defense
During that same stretch, the Michigan State offense was scoring slightly over 1.0 points-per-possession. By the same token, they were scoring much quicker on the Ohio State defense than Ohio State was scoring on them, only needing 17.3 seconds per possession. Coming into the game, Ohio State was forcing teams into 18.9 second possessions on average, which was one of the 20 best marks in the NCAA.
What was Michigan State doing that gave them better scoring opportunities? First and foremost, their ball reversals were superb. After getting to the lane, often Appling was passing out to the either the corner or the wing, who then would reverse it around the perimeter quickly to get an open three. The Ohio State rotations were a bit substandard there compared to what we've seen this season, and undoubtedly Coach Thad Matta will be disappointed by the Spartans' percentage from three-point range, 57.9% – 30% over what teams shoot against the Buckeyes from that range this season. Here's an example of what I'm talking about:
The Spartans get the ball into Adreian Payne, and Craft shows on a double but then tracks where the ball is going to go and flashes back out. Scott makes an incorrect read on what's happening, and tries to rotate out onto Keith Appling when Craft has already recovered instead of staying with the shooter, Gary Harris. Branden Dawson does an excellent job boxing out LaQuinton Ross so that he can't rotate out to the shooter. This leads to a perfect ball reversal and a wide open three by Harris. Ohio State had not faced a team yet this season that was as unselfish as the Spartans.
The percentage of baskets assisted by Buckeye opponents this year coming into the Michigan State game was 39.4, 4th best in the NCAA. Michigan State assisted on 61.5% of their made field goals last night. Again, some of this is luck that shots fell, but this was undoubtedly the worst defensive performance of the Ohio State season.
What does this loss mean in general for Ohio State? Probably not much. They faced a really good team on that team's home floor, stormed back after a sluggish 33 minutes, and forced overtime. I might argue that Ohio State needs to start pressing a bit more often, given their guard/wing depth and the results that they've seen now in this game and the Notre Dame game, but this is still a 15-1 team. They're still the strong defensive team that doesn't make it easy on offenses to score, forces turnovers, and doesn't give away free points at the line. The offense still goes through rough patches where they can't score – again, I'd argue, this is where pressing slightly more often could help get some easy buckets – but I don't think a loss in the Breslin Center changes much for them. They're still the #1 team according to KenPom.com's computers, and still haven't lost a game they should have won.
Just real quick, I wanted to go over something I saw at the end of the game here on the final Ohio State possession, where Marc Loving tossed up a wild, extremely contested 21 foot fling at the rim. Let's take a look at what happened:
I'm not going to crush Loving for his decision here. Yeah he should have done better, but I'll get to that. Matta's decision to leave he and Sam Thompson on the floor for the overtime was the right one. I definitely believe in the idea of rolling with who brought you there. LaQuinton Ross had been on the bench for about 20-30 minutes of actual time and was probably rather cold.
Having said all of that, there were numerous problems with what happened here, which is why I wish that Matta would have used a timeout to set the Buckeyes up properly (and yes, they had one remaining). First and foremost, I don't love the decision to not have Amir Williams on the floor – something that can be remedied with a timeout. Not only is he Ohio State's best screener, but he's their only chance for a second opportunity off of a tip out. If he could have created even a sliver more of room for Aaron Craft, maybe Craft doesn't pick up his dribble so quickly here. That's the second problem: Craft picked up his dribble before allowing Lenzelle Smith Jr. to flash up to the wing to give him a second passing option and before he could have conceivably been looking for a shot for himself. Third, I don't know what Shannon Scott is doing at all. He just...kinda got lost. Again, late game situation, no play set up, that happens.
Fourth, we'll now get to the Loving decision, which was obviously wrong, but he's a freshman in a tough situation. As soon as he got the ball and Appling got immediately up in his grill, Matta again should have called a timeout. Without said timeout, Loving probably should have reversed the ball to Thompson in the corner immediately, who would have had a more open three point look against a slowly rotating, slightly injured Payne. Even if Thompson doesn't get the shot away, he can reverse it back and set up a better situation. I don't love all of the semi-organized chaos that happened on this play, and am a pretty strong proponent that a timeout would have been the right call.
That's not why Ohio State lost the game, though. Ohio State lost this game in the first 33 minutes, where Michigan State thoroughly dominated them on both ends. Given what happened in the final 12 minutes, I think a better performance is in the cards when Michigan State visits Columbus on March 9th in the regular season finale.