Ohio State's NCAA Tournament hopes took a hit on Tuesday night due to a 81-62 loss at Value City Arena to Michigan State. But the bigger blow came less than an hour before tip-off when the team confirmed in a release that sophomore Jae'Sean Tate, the Buckeyes' heart and soul, is done for the season with a shoulder injury.
Tate will have surgery on Friday to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder, the opposite shoulder that he sustained the exact same injury to as a high school player. The Pickerington native was badly missed on the court for his toughness, rebounding, and presence in the paint.
The Spartans were simply on fire from the three-point line in this one, knocking down 14-for-22 from beyond the arc, and shooting better than 54 percent from the floor overall. Senior Bryn Forbes made seven threes en route to scoring 27 points, while Big Ten Player of the Year frontrunner Denzel Valentine added 17 points, five rebounds, and eight assists.
Junior Marc Loving led the Buckeyes with an aggressive 19 points, as he looked more assertive in Tate's absence. Freshman JaQuan Lyle pitched in with 16 points in the loss.
Ohio State, which had won four games in a row, fell to 10-6 in Big Ten play and 18-11 overall. With the win, Michigan State improved to 10-5 in the conference, leapfrogging the Buckeyes in the standings.
The Buckeyes' length on defense seemed to bother Michigan State early, as they started the game 1-for-5 from the floor. Then the three balls started raining. Valentine and Forbes knocked down back-to-back triples, as did sophomore Kam Williams and Loving for the Scarlet and Gray.
Even Michigan State sophomore Marvin Clark, Jr., who had attempted only 15 shots from deep all season, got one to rattle home, giving head coach Tom Izzo's squad a 19-15 lead at the under-12 media timeout.
That lead was pushed out to 22-16 after a three-pointer by junior Eron Harris, but Ohio State refused to go away. Sophomore Keita Bates-Diop got a bucket, Williams splashed his second three, and Bates-Diop knocked down two free throws to give the Buckeyes a 25-24 lead.
After the Williams three, the Buckeyes went more than six minutes without a field goal, missing nine straight shots. The Spartans didn't blow things open, though, due in large part to solid Ohio State defense. But a pair of threes from Valentine, who led all scorers with 12 points in the first half, gave Michigan State a 33-27 edge.
Thompson, who put up seven first half points, got a bucket to end the drought, but Clark made another three-pointer for a 36-31 lead at halftime. Loving led the Buckeyes with nine points, including 4-for-4 from the free throw line.
To start the second half, Thompson swatted a Clark jump-hook in the lane and Lyle hit a deep three from the top with the shot clock dwindling. But Forbes answered right back, keeping Michigan State's hot shooting from beyond the arc going with back-to-back threes. The deficit for Ohio State was 42-34.
Senior Matt Costello scored six straight points and Harris got a steal and layup, and Buckeye head coach Thad Matta was forced to call a timeout down 50-40. To the team's credit, Ohio State showed real resilience, but just didn't have enough to keep up with the Spartans' barrage from long-range.
Valentine made another and Forbes got two more, and suddenly the Buckeyes were down 59-46. After Loving and Lyle both hit a pair of free throws and Loving knocked down a jumper, Forbes hit his sixth and seventh three-pointers of the game, and it was all but over.
Despite the efforts of Loving and Lyle to keep the Buckeyes in contact, Forbes and Costello combined to give Michigan State a 75-58 lead with five minutes remaining. There was little Ohio State could do after that.
Three things we learned:
1. Ohio State has work a lot of work to do to make the NCAA Tournament. During the broadcast, ESPN's chief bracketologist Joe Lunardi said the Buckeyes were not even close to making the tourney, and probably need at least four more wins to get in. He cited Ohio State's weak nonconference schedule, which it did not perform very well against, and its bottom-heavy conference schedule. Whether they come in the final regular season games or the Big Ten tournament, four more wins will be an extremely tall order. Without Tate for the rest of the season, it will be even more difficult.
2. Time for Loving to step up. Without Tate, the onus of leadership on the court falls to Ohio State's upperclassman. Loving has been oft-criticized throughout his career for lacking the kind of fire that seems to come naturally to Tate, but he looked more focused in this game. The former Ohio Mr. Basketball scored 19 points, and was extremely aggressive. He got to the free throw line 10 times in the game, making all of them, and played solid defense.
3. Three-point defense is key. The Buckeyes came into the game limiting opponents to just over 36 percent shooting from deep, but Michigan State orchestrated its off-ball screens to perfection, constantly freeing up Forbes for open looks. As Ohio State will see the Spartans again in the regular season finale and its next opponent, Iowa, shoots well from deep, Matta and the coaching staff will have to get the perimeter defense cleaned up in a hurry.