Coming off of their worst streak to start a Big Ten slate under head coach Thad Matta, Ohio State (11-7, 1-4) got their first win of the Big Ten season on Sunday, knocking off Michigan State (12-7, 4-2) 72-67 at the Value City Arena. The victory put an end to a Spartan five-game winning-streak in the series. The Buckeyes’ four-straight conference losses equaled the worst streak under Matta, in both 2008 and 2014.
The Buckeyes used a balanced, energetic attack to keep the game close throughout the game, despite playing with a severely weakened bench, following the season-ending injury of forward Keita Bates-Diop. The Buckeye effort was led by JaQuan Lyle in the team’s best performance of the season.
Lyle finished the game with 22 points on 8-12 shooting (5-7 behind the arc), in addition to 6 assists and 4 rebounds.
In the game’s first five minutes, Tom Izzo’s Spratans used their depth and athletic advantages to push the pace as both teams raced up and down the court. MSU hit on its first six attempts from the field, including three from beyond the arc. In that same span, Ohio State shot only 3-10, but was buoyed by five offensive rebounds, including two from Trevor Thompson. At the first timeout, Michigan State led 15-10.
In addition to Thompson’s imposing presence down low, senior Marc Loving had an impact in the paint, fighting for rebounds and using a size-advantage to back smaller defenders down. While he didn’t shoot particularly well in the first half, Loving’s energy was important for OSU in the first 20 minutes.
From there, the Buckeyes used a 9-0 run over two and a half minutes to take their first lead of the game at 16-15. As it has been all season, OSU’s scoring was well distributed with six players contributing to their first 16 points. While their early shooting was less than desirable, the Buckeyes’ execution was much sharper in the first quarter of the game than it has been recently. Ohio State finished the game with all five starters in double-figures and accounting for 66 of their 72 points.
After the Spartans regained the lead, 20-16, Ohio State went on an 11-0 run, fueled in part by two three-pointers by Loving. While the Toledo-native has drawn the ire of many Buckeye fans over his four years in Columbus, Loving will need to perform down the stretch more like he did in the first half against Michigan State if OSU is to right the season.
An energetic and active force on both sides of the floor, Loving finished the first 20 minutes with 8 points, 6 rebounds, a block, and an assist. The only down-side to the senior’s first-half performance was being called for traveling three times in the first 17 minutes.
The second 10 minutes saw Ohio State take the lead, and improved the team’s shooting percentage considerably. The home team ended the half 13-30 (43.3%) from the floor, 6-13 for 3, and 4-4 from the free-throw line. Conversely, Michigan State was 12-25 (48%), 6-11 for 3, and 3-6 from the stripe.
A three-pointer with the shot-clocking winding down from JaQuan Lyle broke a more than three-minute scoring drought for both teams, and gave OSU a 36-30 lead with a minute to go in the half. MSU guard Joshua Langford returned the favor at the buzzer to bring the score to 36-33 in favor of the Buckeyes at halftime.
At the break, Spartan freshman, Miles Bridges led all scorers with 12; seven other Spartans scored in the first half, including Gahanna-native Nick Ward. Lyle paced the Buckeyes with 11, followed by Loving’s 8. Kam Williams also chipped in for 7, and Jae’Sean Tate added 6.
The first 10 minutes of the second half was far more defensively-focused than the first 20. The two teams traded the lead multiple times, but it remained close throughout.
Despite picking up his third foul with 8 minutes remaining, Thompson remained in the game and converted two emphatic dunks to get the home crowd on their feet. However, the good and bad of his energetic play was seen on back-to-back defensive possessions; first rejecting a shot to force a shot-clock violation, and then fouling MSU guard Alvin Ellis III while shooting a three-pointer.
Ellis hit two of three shots to break a 10-0 Buckeye run which saw them extend their lead to 66-60 with four minutes remaining. Despite not having a field goal during the last 5:33 of the game, Ohio State never gave up the lead.
The Buckeyes finished shooting 46.2% from the field and 43.5 from distance. They also shot an impressive 70% from the line. In addition to Lyle’s 22, Tate and Loving finished with 12 points, and Williams and Thompson added 10 apiece.
Bridges finished with 24 for Michigan State, and was the only Spartan in double-figures. Ward finished with 9 points and 4 rebounds in his Central Ohio-homecoming, but was saddled with 4 personal fouls, that led to only 18 minutes of playing time.
The basketball Buckeyes return to the court on Wednesday against Nebraska at 9:00 p.m. EST. The game will be broadcast from Lincoln on the Big Ten Network.
Here’s what we learned:
1) Marc Loving is the X-factor in Ohio State turning the season around. As mentioned above, Loving has never lived up to the expectations that his Mr. Ohio Basketball status brought with him to Columbus. However, as the going has gotten tough this season, the senior has brought more of a fire to the floor down the stretch. In addition to 12 points and 7 boards, Loving forced two fast-break offensive-fouls from the Spartans that helped turn the tide.
Third in scoring and fourth in rebounds (including Bates-Diop) on the team, the energy that Loving showed against Michigan State, specifically on the glass and on defense, is going to be extremely important if the Buckeyes are going to find a way to move this season closer to respectability.
He is shooting 42.1% on the season, so he likely won’t be the team’s scoring savior, but having an energetic and active 6’8 presence on the floor should be beneficial.
2) C.J. Jackson needs to be a bigger part of Matta’s rotation. With the loss of junior forward Keita Bates-Diop for the season, Thad Matta’s traditionally short bench for conference play has been shortened even more than normal, meaning that OSU newcomers freshman Micah Potter, who began the season in the starting lineup, and JuCo transfer C.J. Jackson will be asked to contribute more down the stretch.
Both Potter and Jackson have been averaging around 15 minutes on the season, but the minutes for Potter have been decreasing after being replaced as a starter by Trevor Thompson, while Jackson’s have been increasing.
He only saw 13 minutes in this game, but with 5 points on 2-3 shooting, Jackson provided a burst of energy off of the bench. As the season progresses, especially if the back-court ever gets into foul trouble, Jackson has proven that he deserves to be a bigger part of the rotation.
Freshman forward Andrew Wesson picked up two fouls in two minutes of first half action before getting back in the game with halfway through the second half. He finished with 0 points in 7 minutes of playing time.
3) Thad Matta’s streak of 20-win seasons is in severe jeopardy. Despite the exciting victory over the Spartans, the Buckeyes still have work to do in the last six weeks of the regular season.
Ohio State has at least 15 games remaining this season; 13 conference games, at least one in the Big Ten Tournament, and one in a post-season tournament. For Matta to reach 20 wins, as he has done in every other season as a collegiate head coach, the Buckeyes will need to undergo a dramatic turnaround.
More than half of their remaining conference games are against teams in Ken Pomeroy’s Top-50 (Ohio State is currently ranked 57th). So for the Buckeyes to have a legitimate shot at nine more victories, they must win every game against lower-ranked teams (seven), and pull some regular season upsets, or have multiple post-season victories. A tall task for a team that has dramatically underperformed thus far this season.
Also in jeopardy is Matta’s streak of double-digit Big Ten victories, which he has accomplished in every season in Columbus after his first in 2004-2005, for 11 in a row.