This was almost a heist. The Ohio State Buckeyes had a 31-25 lead at halftime, and looked good against the Michigan State Spartans. Earlier in the week, Illinois stunned the Bucks in Columbus, so a win at Michigan State would, sorta, equalize things.
But, this wasn’t like the movies. This wasn’t an Ocean’s 11 movie (the newer ones) where the heist is successful. No, what happened in East Lansing was the equivalent of running out of the museum with the jewel, only to realize that the getaway driver is nowhere to be found—and the keys to the getaway car are, somehow, locked inside the car.
The Spartans ripped off a 20-2 scoring run in the final 7:40 of the game, and blew out the Buckeyes by 18 points, 62-44. Turnovers plagued Chris Holtmann’s team in the second half, and when coupled with poor shooting, was the cocktail for defeat.
While there were some overwhelming negatives, there were a couple bright spots here and there at the Breslin Center. Here’s a few thoughts from the Buckeyes’ latest game.
1) Without Jackson, this is a 25-point loss
Kaleb Wesson was the leader in points (12) and rebounds (9), but my personal player of the game was C.J. Jackson. Even though he only contributed eight points, he did a little bit of everything.
Jackson was 2-of-3 from downtown, and kinda made MSU play defense around the perimeter against him, as he was the only real threat. (In comparison, the rest of the team was 2-of-12 from distance.) Right out of the gate, C.J. showed that he was going to challenge the Spartans from three-point distance.
Additionally, Jackson put four rebounds, two assists and two steals into the stat column, and committed only one turnover for the game. Offensively, only Kaleb and C.J. were the consistent presences. However, when C.J. appeared to injure his leg midway through the second half, everything started to fall apart.
More turnovers happened, more careless possessions happened, and a thoroughly throttling happened. This was a doomsday scenario for OSU: if Jackson isn’t able to play to full potential, then who will be able to step up? Kaleb played one of his more complete games all seasons, had only one foul against him, and played 29 minutes. And through all that, the Buckeyes still managed to lose by 18.
After the game, it was reported that Jackson had a rolled ankle. With Northwestern coming to town on Thursday, this could be another loss if Jackson isn’t ready to go. Regardless if C.J. is 100 percent of not, more help on offense needs to occur. Luther Muhammad, figuratively, went missing against Michigan State; he had just two points on 1-of-9 shooting. Andre Wesson had four points on 2-of-10 shooting, and Duane Washington had four points after going 1-of-7 from the field.
2) Stop the fastbreak
When Ohio State suffered their first loss of the season to Syracuse, a blueprint was established on how to stop the Buckeyes: implement the zone. When January rolled around, Big Ten squads used the zone against OSU, and, unsurprisingly, it worked.
Michigan State has added another page to the ‘Beat the Buckeyes’ playbook. Sparty had 17 points on the fastbreak, and that was a big reason for why they were still in the game at halftime. Thirteen of MSU’s 25 points in the first half came courtesy of the break, with Nick Ward leading the way with five fastbreak points. When Ward exited the contest, missing most of the second half with a hairline fracture in his left hand, fastbreak wasn’t the name of the game anymore—but the damage was done.
Teams that are desperate for wins, or ones that are trying to do everything they can to increase their stock as the NCAA Tournament approaches will be looking at how to dismantle the Buckeyes over the course of 40 minutes. Using a zone defense, while also running the fastbreak seems like the one-two punch to do it. Michigan State registered eight total blocks (five in the first half), and for a team with a big man, that’s one way the break can start.
Six games remain in the regular season for OSU, and outside of the pair with NU, the other four teams are ranked/receiving votes to be ranked. It’s an uphill battle Holtmann has to fight, but stopping teams from beating the Bucks down the floor is an area that needs to be worked on if Ohio State wants to be hooping in the NCAA tourney.
3) Careful possessions
Buddy, taking care of the basketball has been a problem this season for OSU. Sunday was no exception, but it felt like we saw advanced turnovers and bad possessions from this squad. The first half was pretty good basketball, but the second half was a mess.
After committing just four turnovers in the first 20 minutes, OSU had 11 in the final 20. The Wesson brothers and Musa Jallow all had three apiece, and Muhammad and Woods had two. Six different Spartans tallied steals, with Xavier Tillman leading the way with two.
Cranking three pointers in the style of Kobe also attributed for the debacle; the Bucks were 1-of-9 from downtown in the second half. That’s not to say everything three-pointer was absurd. Duane Washington Jr. got a beauty of a kick out from Jallow, and had an open look from three. However, the ball just clanked off the iron.
I understand why the three ball seemed like a necessity. Whenever the Bucks tried to pass down low, someone was there to deflect. Whenever they tried to move up the floor and go on the break, something always seemed to go wrong (i.e., a stolen pass).
And it’s not exclusively the offense were the Bucks have to be careful.
Defensive letdowns paved the way for open shots—especially from downtown—for the Spartans. After the game was tied at 42-42, Matt Mcquaid drove toward the basket before kicking out the ball to Kyle Ahrens for an open three. The reason why Ahrens was so open? Keyshawn Woods got caught by Thomas Kithier, and by the time he got a hand up to block the shot, Ahrens was already in the follow through. That was momentum shifting three, as on the next OSU possession, Muhammad took a wild (and off-balanced shot).
When OSU implemented zone, Kenny Goins found some space before buying a deep two. Mcquaid then followed up with a deep three, which brought him to heat check levels.
Granted, it’s worth mentioning that when things go bad, they really do go bad. It was a terrible second half for the Buckeyes, and some if it was due to being on the road and the rim not being kind. There were some questionable calls, but every game has those—that’s the nature of the beast. Ohio State has a tendency to overplay on defense when down, and panic on offense; forcing low percentage shots and attempting to play hero ball won’t get the Buckeyes into the tournament, and it may even push them out of the NIT if things completely fall apart.