For the third time in 2019, Ohio State squared off with the Big ten’s top seeded Michigan State Spartans. And for the third time in 2019, Ohio State hung with the Spartans for about 25 minutes before Michigan State was able to pull away.
In the first meeting, the spark came from a more expected place, with both of Michigan State’s stars (Winston and Ward) dropping more than 20 points to answer Kaleb Wesson’s 25. In the rematch in February, it was Matt McQuaid, who’s four three-pointers and lockdown defense put Michigan State on their late game run.
Today, it was freshman point guard Foster Loyer, a rarely seen face for the Spartans this season, listed very generously at 6-foot flat on the Spartans’ official website. Loyer has averaged just 1.4 points in his first college basketball season. He played double-digit minutes in five games this season, and had a career high of 10, put up against Green Bay back in December. He’s knocked down four of 20 three point attempts all season.
Loyer finished today’s quarterfinal game with 14 points. He hit four threes (tying his career total) and played 18 minutes, crushing his previous career high. Michigan State pulled the best player in the conference in Cassius Winston off the floor, tossed in a freshman reserve, and he destroyed the Buckeyes almost immediately.
Sometimes, it just isn’t your day; and sometimes, a team just can’t get over an extremely specific mental or talent block. Last year, Ohio State couldn’t beat Penn State. This year, they just can’t beat Michigan State. It’s not even necessarily a matchup thing—though elite point guard play (Winston, Anthony Cowan Jr., Carsen Edwards, Zavier Simpson) and defense (Michigan, Syracuse, Purdue) is a pretty good way to beat the Buckeyes.
It certainly isn’t for a lack of effort either. As they have all season long, and as they did in each of the prior two matchups with the Spartans, Ohio State never showed any signs of quit, even when the deficit cratered to 21 with four minutes to play off of a 35-14 run for the Spartans. Ohio State took it in stride, battled back, and rattled off a 16-0 run of their own to cut the lead back down to five before Cassius Winston put the game away with free throws.
Ultimately, for the third straight game between the two teams, Michigan State showed why they’re one of the best teams in the country. They flexed their depth, strength and shooting, and were able to continue scoring consistently enough to pull away in the second half. Ohio State showed that it’s a program with a whole lot of energy—and a program very obviously headed in the correct direction.
Kaleb Wesson struggled with fouls when forced to matchup with Nick Ward, the more experienced version of himself. C.J. Jackson went cold when guarded by the excellent Winston. Michigan State has steady hands that they know they can trust for a bucket, and Ohio State has a whole lot of potential. A whole lot of effort. That’s not enough against a team like MSU. Chris Holtmann said it himself in the post game presser, per Adam Jardy:
“I think Michigan State, in my two years I think they’re the best Big Ten team that we’ve competed against.”
It wasn’t all bad for Ohio State, and in fact, I think the team played pretty well, given the circumstances. Keyshawn Woods stayed hot, dropping 16 points in another good shooting day. If the Buckeyes can depend on him, they have a puncher’s chance at winning at least one game in the NCAA tournament, especially if they catch an offensively challenged opponent.