On Tuesday night, Michigan State (16-10, 8-5) knocked off the Ohio State Buckeyes (15-11, 5-9), 74-66, to even the regular season series at a win apiece. OSU won the season’s first meeting on January 15th, 72-67.
The Buckeyes were beset by a rash of foul trouble to their best players, but thanks in no small part to senior Marc Loving, played well enough to be in a position to take a lead late in the second half. However, it was hot Spartan shooting and the foul-induced war of attrition that ultimately kept the Buckeyes at arm’s length.
After missing Ohio State’s loss against Maryland on Saturday for a family emergency, JaQuan Lyle returned to action coming off the bench, scoring 10 points in the first half.
The game opened with a rather inauspicious start as Spartan guard Eron Harris hit on the game’s first field goal attempt, a three-pointer, and on the subsequent Buckeye possession, Trevor Thompson, unaware of the dwindling shot-clock, connected on an impressive hook-shot a full second after the horn had sounded.
However, OSU quickly righted the ship, in part, thanks to four offensive rebounds in the game’s first six minutes. Ohio State finally got its first point 2:30 into the game as Loving drove to the basket and had his layup counted after an MSU goaltending. Loving was also fouled, and completed the old-fashioned three-point play.
At the first timeout, MSU led 15-12, with 13:27 in the half. The Buckeyes got early contributions from newcomers, sophomore guard C.J. Jackson and freshman center Micah Potter; both of whom had a pair of basket’s in the first few minutes. Jackson finished with six in a career high 29 minutes; Potter finished with seven.
However, the pairs nine early points were outshone by MSU senior Alvin Ellis III’s five three-pointers on as many attempts in the game’s first 8:30. Though he cooled down there after, he did end the game shooting 6-9 from downtown for 18 total points.
Anecdotally, it often feels like the Buckeyes give up an unusually large number of threes, but coming into the game, OSU was holding opponents to 34.5% from behind the arc, which is in the middle of the NCAA standings. However, their 217 three-pointers allowed ranked 54th nationally.
After falling behind by nine, the Buckeyes rallied to pull within one possession, 23-20, with 7:49 remaining. However, Thompson, OSU’s best rebounder, picked up an unnecessary foul a minute earlier, and had to sit with two personals. Thompson would eventually foul out for the eighth time on the season with just six points and seven rebounds, both below his season average.
Ohio State’s Kam Williams capped a Buckeye 10-0 run with a three-pointer to put OSU up 24-23 at the 7-minute mark. As the teams continued going back-and-forth, Ohio State’s leading scorer Jae’Sean Tate picked up his third foul with just over four minutes remaining in the half. The junior forward was scoreless in 12 minutes of first half action. He ended the game with just seven points in 22 minutes.
Michigan State led at halftime, 40-34. However, a 10-point run that spanned the halves pushed them out to a 12-point lead less than two minutes into the second half before OSU coach Thad Matta called a timeout in an attempt stop the bleeding.
After picking up his first bucket of the game, a three-pointer at the 16:50 mark, moments later, Tate was called for his fourth foul contesting a Miles Bridges dunk attempt.
However, with Tate on the bench, Loving, OSU’s only senior, took control, hitting a pair of threes, in addition to another FG, to pull the Buckeyes to 52-51 with just under 12 minutes remaining.
Loving finished with 22 points to lead all scorers. Lyle, who was scoreless in the second half was the only other Buckeye in double figures.
From that point, the Spartans continued to maintain a lead of various sizes, but in the final four minutes, Loving continued his Herculean effort bringing the Buckeyes back to a 69-62 deficit with a minute and a half remaining. However, some sloppy play down the stretch from the depleted Buckeyes allowed Michigan State to hold onto the lead.
The Buckeyes will be back in action on Saturday against Nebraska. The game will tip at 6:00 p.m. EST from the Value City Arena and will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.
3 things we learned:
1. Your “Marc Loving is lazy” hot-takes are no longer welcome. Over the years, Marc Loving has been an easy target for Ohio State fans disappointed with the basketball team’s on-court results. A former Mr. Basketball from Toledo, expectations were sky-high when Loving showed up on campus.
However, despite being a 1,000 point scorer, he has never lived up to the promise that he had when he came to Columbus. That is all indisputable fact, but it has become common place for Buckeye fans to assign all sorts of offenses to Loving over the years, some warranted and some not.
For all of the ups-and-downs of his career, the assertion that he is “lazy” or has ”bad body-language” is either outdated or lazy in and of itself. For the entirely of the Big Ten season, Loving has been one of Ohio State’s few consistent producers on both ends of the floor. Jae’Sean Tate and Trevor Thompson have each had a career year, and have potentially earned themselves professional contracts overseas, but Loving has equated himself more than favorably from a productivity, energy, and commitment stand-point.
In addition to averaging 12.2 points and five rebounds per game this season, he has also dramatically increased his defensive commitment and willingness to sacrifice his body. With the team’s two best players on the bench in foul trouble against MSU, Loving put the team on his back and, against all odds, kept the Buckeyes in the game far longer than was logical.
While his 22 points were two shy of his season-high (from the team’s last game, Saturday against Maryland), his Valentine’s Day performance was perhaps his most impressive given how much was needed of him just to keep the game respectable.
So, if your hot-take on the 2016-2017 Buckeyes is that Marc Loving isn’t a leader and that his laziness and bad body language are what has doomed this team, you need to turn on the TV and watch the Buckeyes play more often.
2. There are reasons to be optimistic about the Buckeyes’ future. Due, in part to Thompson and Tate having to sit considerable minutes due to foul trouble, for the first time since the non-conference season, we got to see extended action from some of Ohio State’s younger players.
Micah Potter, C.J. Jackson, and Andre Wesson all saw at least 12 minutes of playing time in the first half, and all contributed, especially in the first half.
They each have physical and skill deficiencies to work on during the off-season, but, while none are transcendent talents, their performances in limited action against Michigan State did provide some cause for optimism for 2017-2018.
3. This Buckeye team is one of the most confusing in recent memory. The Buckeyes will likely end this season with their worst record in a decade and a half. However, they already have seven losses of two possessions or less; all games that could have gone either way.
At times they have looked just this side of putrid, but at others, they have looked as good as any non-Greg Oden-led Matta team. So what’s the difference? Honestly, I have no idea. The lack of a consistent, superstar might come into play, but Tate has picked up that mantle during the Big Ten season.
Is it the fact that the team has no senior leadership? Loving has played his best collegiate basketball in the last two months.
We all have thoughts and opinions as to what is “wrong” with this team, the question is, will Matta be able to figure out how to keep the team more level down the stretch and into next season? Only time will tell.