After an ugly loss to Illinois on Thursday night, Ohio State (16-8, 6-7) hits the road to take on Michigan State (20-5, 11-3) in East Lansing. The Buckeyes will be looking to avenge an 86-77 loss they suffered to the Spartans on Jan. 5 in Columbus. Today’s Big Ten tilt will tip at 1 p.m. ET on CBS.
Ohio State saw their three-game winning streak snapped at home on Thursday night at the hands of Illinois. The Buckeyes played one of their worst games of the season, shooting just 36 percent from the floor and turning the basketball over 18 times to the Fighting Illini. Ohio State hit just two of the 13 three-pointers they attempted, which was their season-low for makes from behind the arc.
C.J. Jackson led Ohio State with 17 points against Illinois, but a big reason for Ohio State’s loss to Illinois was because of the seven turnovers the senior guard committed. Kaleb Wesson added 11 points against the Fighting Illini, but the sophomore fouled out for the fifth time this season in Big Ten play. Andre Wesson was the only other Ohio State player to reach double figures on the score sheet on Thursday night, finishing with 10 points. The older Wesson brother has now scored at least 10 points in five of the last seven games.
To be a successful team, Ohio State needs all their parts working together. In the loss to Illinois, the Buckeyes had a couple players who contributed very little despite being on the floor for at least 20 minutes. Luther Muhammad missed all six field goals he took in 30 minutes on the court against the Fighting Illini. The freshman guard hit two free throws to avoid being shutout in the scoring column. Keyshawn Woods came of the bench to play 25 minutes and hit just one of his six field goal attempts and finished with three points. The Buckeyes are going to need more from both players going forward if they hope to snag a NCAA Tournament bid.
Ohio State will now turn their attention to a Michigan State team they lost to earlier this season. Kaleb Wesson had one of his best games of the season in defeat, scoring 25 points and pulling down eight rebounds before fouling out with just under two minutes to play. Luther Muhammad scored 12 points and Andre Wesson added 10 points, but both joined Kaleb Wesson late in the game on the bench after fouling out. Duane Washington Jr. gave the Buckeyes a bit of a spark off the bench, finishing with 10 points.
The Buckeyes will have the odds stacked against them when it comes to pulling the upset over the Spartans today. Ohio State hasn’t won in East Lansing since 2012, and is 17-45 all-time at Michigan State. The Spartans has largely dominated the series recently, winning seven of 10 meetings with the Buckeyes since the beginning of the 2013-14 season.
In late January and early February, Michigan State had their first slump of the season, dropping three games in a row to Purdue, Indiana and Illinois. Last weekend the Spartans started to turn things around against Minnesota, and on Tuesday night Michigan State made it two wins in a row by beating Wisconsin, 67-59.
The Spartans were able to secure a win for the second year in a row at the Kohl Center in Madison thanks to the efforts of Cassius Winston, whose three-pointer with 6:32 left broke a 53-53 tie and gave Michigan State the lead against the Badgers for good. Winston finished with a team-high 23 points and dished out six assists. Kenny Goins flirted with a double-double, finishing with 12 points and nine rebounds, while Nick Ward also scored 12 points and blocked three shots in the victory over Wisconsin.
Winston and Ward both had a big game in Michigan State’s previous meeting with Ohio State this season. Cassius Winston caught fire after halftime, scoring 18 of his 25 points in the second half. Ward, who played high school basketball in Gahanna had a successful return to Central Ohio, scoring 21 points and pulling down eight rebounds in the win over the Buckeyes. Matt McQuaid added 12 points for the Spartans, who were playing their second game without captain Joshua Langford, who has since been ruled out for the rest of the season due to a foot injury.
Winston has really taken over since the loss of Langford, and is the only player in the country to average at least 18 points per game, seven assists per game, and shoot at least 45 percent from the field. Ward has helped shoulder some of the leadership role, and is one of just eight players in the country to average at least 15 points per game, 6.5 rebounds per game, and shoot at least 60 percent so far this year.
Ohio State will have to be aware of where Michigan State defenders are at all times because the Spartans are one of the best teams in the country at blocking shots. So far this season Michigan State has blocked 144 shots, which averages out to 5.76 blocks per game. By comparison, Ohio State has only been credited with 60 blocked shots this year. Kenny Goins tied a school record recently when he blocked eight shots against Indiana. Goins, Nick Ward, and Xavier Tillman are all averaging at least 1.4 blocks per game so far this year.
ESPN BPI: Michigan State 89.9%
After seeing Ohio State put together a listless performance at home on Thursday night, it’s hard to see the Buckeyes being able to hit the road and hand Michigan State a loss. The Spartans have a lot of size and physicality on the inside with Ward, Goins, and Tillman, which will be hard for the Buckeyes to match. Ohio State might be able to keep pace for a bit early on, but it’s hard to imagine Kaleb Wesson and Kyle Young staying out of foul trouble with what Michigan State is going to throw at them.
The biggest mismatch on the court this afternoon is likely to come at the point guard position. While C.J. Jackson is working his way towards 1,000 career points at Ohio State, he isn’t at the same level as Cassius Winston. The junior guard from Detroit is a true threat from behind the arc, as he is shooting three-pointers at a 45 percent clip this year. Winston has scored at least 20 points in five of the last six games.
Obviously an Ohio State win would do wonders for their NCAA Tournament rèsumè, but it is going to take the Buckeyes’ best effort of the season if they have designs on pulling the upset over Michigan State. While the Buckeyes will put forth maximum effort, it won’t be enough to overcome the sloppy play they have been exhibiting lately, as well as the talent advantage Michigan State has.