Much like a number of Ohio State games this year, the Buckeyes stumbled out of the gates and found themselves in an early hole. Early on Ohio State had a very hard time finding their shot, hitting only four of the first 16 field goals they attempted, while Michigan State looked like they were benefitting greatly from the extra day of rest.
The Spartans led in the first half by as many as 16 points, as they were paced by Denzel Valentine's 12 points and five assists in the first 20 minutes. Michigan State did a great job of sharing the basketball in the first half, registering 13 assists on the 15 field goals they made. Along with their strong offensive play, the Spartans were playing some of their trademark tough defense under Tom Izzo, forcing the Buckeyes into committing six turnovers in the first half.
Still the Buckeyes were able to minimize some of the damage and head into the locker room down only 36-28. The catalyst for Ohio State's run to erase some of the 16-point deficit was D'Angelo Russell, who hit two straight three-pointers to swing some of the tide back to Ohio State's side. The freshman led the Buckeyes with eight points in the first half, and also was able to grab four rebounds. Right behind Russell was Sam Thompson with six points. The senior did most of his damage at the foul line, hitting all four of the attempts he had at the charity stripe.
Shannon Scott came out with a little fire in the second half, hitting a three-pointer, and then dishing to Amir Williams for a bucket to help Ohio State close the gap to 40-35. The Buckeyes couldn't gain any more traction though as their shooting began to fail them once again. Behind Brandon Dawson, Denzel Valentine, and Travis Trice Michigan State was able to start building the lead again, opening up a double-digit lead midway through the second half. The trio all hit double-digits in scoring, with Dawson and Valentine both doing work on the boards and passing the basketball as well.
The Buckeyes were able to cut into a 17-point lead late in the second half behind Shannon Scott and D'Angelo Russell, but like many other games where Ohio State fell behind by a sizable amount, they just didn't have enough time or energy to erase the deficit. While the Buckeyes were able to close the gap to seven points late in the second half, Michigan State held serve the rest of the way to secure the victory.
3 Things We Learned:
1) Hope D'Angelo Russell catches fire, because if not Ohio State will probably one get one more game out of him. Obviously hopefully the Buckeyes have a few more games up their sleeve this year, but it wouldn't be a big surprise to see Ohio State only play one more game this year. It feels like Ohio State is going to be on the 8/9 line in the NCAA Tournament, and that alone is going to bring a tough matchup. If they find a way to navigate that matchup, next up will be the one seed in their region, and that brings on an even bigger can of worms.
While it is asking a lot of a freshman to carry a team, D'Angelo Russell has pretty much done it all year, so might as well just go for broke. Ohio State is going to need to get a lot more out of Russell than they did tonight. Aside from a couple quick three-pointers, Russell had very little impact in the first half, only making one other shot on his way to eight points. Even with as much as Russell struggled, the team didn't do much to pick up the slack, with the other Buckeyes only making five field goals.
Hopefully when the bright lights of the NCAA Tournament are turned on, Russell will shine brightest. Hopefully there is a half like he had earlier in the year against Minnesota when he scored 25 points in the first half, or a game-winning shot somewhere in the mix. Even if the starts aren't aligned for Russell to spark a Buckeye run in the tournament, it has still been a fun ride.
2) The Buckeyes better hope they don't draw a physical team in the NCAA tournament. Michigan State just outworked Ohio State, plain and simple. The Spartans got into the lane too easy, and when they got inside they made sure to convert their opportunities. The main culprit on the inside was Branden Dawson, who was flirting with a triple-double in the game. If the Buckeyes run into a team with a player like Dawson, they are going to be in for an awful lot of trouble next week.
The Buckeyes just provide too little resistance on the inside. Amir Williams may be on the court but way too much it feels like he just isn't there. The senior will show brief moments of turning things around but far too often those moments are short-lived. Trey McDonald showed a few moments of strong play, but that's all the Buckeyes are going to get out of him. While the inside presence is a major problem, those are the best options they have right now. If Ohio State can get past their first game in the tournament, a possible matchup with a Kentucky, Virginia, or a Duke is downright frightening.
3) Maybe Buckeye players didn't like Thad Matta's beard. This Buckeye loss wasn't due to Thad Matta's lack of trying. Very early in the game he already had his patented red face while screaming at the official, Soon after that he was making the equivalent of a line change in hockey, substituting four different players into the game at one time. It still wasn't enough for the Buckeyes. At halftime Thad said this was the most physical Big Ten games he has ever seen, and that's saying a lot from a guy who has been through a lot of battles. Matta said his team needed to get faster and better, but that didn't happen.
Still for Thad Matta this was still a solid coaching job to find a way to 23 wins so far this year. Sure Matta had the luxury of D'Angelo Russell, but he also had a senior class he should've gotten a lot more out of. Very easily this season could've spun out of control when the Buckeyes were struggling earlier in Big Ten play, but he was able to lead his team to a season where they were competitive in the Big Ten. Perhaps Buckeye fans have been spoiled by some of the other Big Ten titles, but Ohio State should be lucky to have Matta. Look on the brightside, at least that football championship a few months ago is still fresh in our minds.