Ohio State lives to see another night, after knocking off Penn State in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday night. The Buckeyes edged out the Nittany Lions by a score of 79-75, thanks to big games from JaQuan Lyle and Marc Loving. Lyle put up a double-double consisting of 22 points and 10 rebounds, with five assists. Loving continued his hot streak, scoring 24 points, and coming up big at the free throw line, knocking down 13-of-15 attempts. Against the Spartans, those two will need similar, if not better performances.
A win would be monumental for the Buckeyes, to say the least. They were able to secure another 20-win season for Thad Matta, and that's good, but the focus is on getting to the next round of the Big Ten Tournament. A victory over Michigan State would not only advance them, but put one impressive win on that NCAA Tournament resume. Without it, the Buckeyes have little to no chance. But, if they are able to knock off the Spartans, it could be just the thing to possibly spark a fire in the Buckeyes, who are missing a key piece in forward Jae'Sean Tate.
The Buckeyes are facing a Michigan State team that is considered to be one of the better ones in the nation, even in this year where it appears it's completely wide open. They are led by Naismith College Player of the Year candidate Denzel Valentine. While Valentine is a good scorer, he really hurt the Buckeyes with his passing on Michigan State's Senior Day game. If you've been keeping up with Ohio State basketball (as you should) all year, you know Valentine all too well. His combination of ball-handling and ability to change speeds makes him extremely hard to guard. His skilled teammates don't make it any easier for their opponents.
One thing Ohio State did manage to do well the last time these teams met was hold Bryn Forbes down. Forbes is one of the deadliest shooters in the nation, averaging 15.1 points per game, while boasting a three-point percentage just over 50 percent. Outside of Valentine, Forbes averages the second most minutes on the team, so expect to see plenty of him, and don't catch yourself surprised if he has a big game like he did the first time these two teams met, when he had 27 points thanks to a 7-of-10 shooting night from deep. The Spartans' other key senior, Matt Costello, is another guy the Spartans will lean on. He has averaged 15.5 points in the two contests against the Buckeyes, the last one in which he had a double-double thanks to 11 rebounds. In fact, in their past three games, he has had double-doubles, and will look to extend that streak Friday evening.
The numerous pieces that the Spartans have make them such a difficult team to play. They can beat you many ways offensively and defensively. With the Spartans, of course you have the three aforementioned players, but contributions from Eron Harris, Gavin Schilling, Deyonta Davis, and Lourawls Nairn Jr. make this a complete team. Even if the Buckeyes were to shut down two of the three of Valentine, Forbes, and Costello, the rest of the Spartans' cast is no joke.
One thing the Buckeyes might have on their side is the month of the year. We've already seen some upsets and magic in other conference tournaments, so if the Buckeyes can get a little of that magic and play one of (if not their best) game of the year, they might just be playing on Saturday in Indianapolis.
Numbers to know
Michigan State is 19-2 when attempting at least 20 shots from deep. The Buckeyes held the Spartans to 16 the last time these two met, but the Spartans still shot 50 percent in the game. Perimeter defense, something that wasn't great for the Buckeyes early in the season, will need to be sharp Friday evening if the Buckeyes hope to pull off the upset and keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
Ohio State is 3-3 against Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament. The last time the two met in the event was last season, when Michigan State knocked off the Buckeyes 76-67 in the quarterfinals, where Denzel Valentine had 23 points, eight boards, and seven assists. In their three wins over the Spartans in the B1G Tournament, two of them have come when the Buckeyes are a lower seed. Hopefully this is one of those instances.
The Buckeyes have shown that they can compete with the Spartans. They just haven't been able to put it together for 40 minutes. If the Buckeyes are able to keep their motor running throughout the entirety of the game, there is no reason they can't pull off the upset. But it has to happen. If it doesn't, the Spartans might come away with another huge victory, and the Buckeyes will be NIT bound.
Cast of characters
The freshman has shown some real flashes of greatness this season, and has also had his struggles. But when Lyle is in the zone, and providing great minutes for the Buckeyes, they're a much different looking team. His great size helps the Buckeyes, especially with Jae'Sean Tate out, but his passing ability has created some easy baskets for his teammates this season. That will be needed more than every on Friday evening, and if he's able to perform at a high level as he did Thursday against the Nittany Lions, the Buckeyes will be in decent shape.
Who knows what did it, but Marc Loving has been on a tear the past three games for the Buckeyes offensively. In both Michigan State contests, he scored 19 and 21 points. He's really stepped up his game since Jae'Sean Tate was officially announced out for the season, and it couldn't have come at a better time. We're beginning to really see that leadership out of Loving, who is a veteran among a team that is full of freshmen and sophomores. The Buckeyes will be more than happy if they're able to squeeze just one more great performance out of the Toledo native.
There's a lot to be said about one of the top candidates for the Naismith Player of the Year. Valentine is expected to hear his name called in the 2016 NBA Draft, and it's easy to see why. He has great size at 6'6, but his ability to command the floor while also being able to take over a game is something to see. He has a great combination of shooting and ball-handling, quarterbacking Tom Izzo's squad better than anyone else in the country could. He's had at least 10 assists in seven games for the Spartans this year, making him so tough to guard. You can try to cover him defensively with extra help, but he will make you pay by finding his teammates.
Of course, another senior is helping lead a Tom Izzo team, because that's just what the Spartans do. Costello is the rebounding anchor for the Spartans, averaging 8.5 per game. Costello has been able to collect at least 10 boards in 13 of the Spartans' 31 games, and at times he's been able to complement that with double-digit scoring as well. He won't kill you with his passing like Valentine will, but he's undoubtedly a huge piece to this team. If the Buckeyes can slow down the Spartans' rebounding machine, that will be a big factor in Friday night's game.
How to watch
Game time: 6:30 p.m. ET
Radio: WBNS-FM 97.1