Coming off a come from behind, knock down, drag-out victory over No. 23 Illinois earlier this week, the Buckeyes had a chance on Sunday to crush yet another team’s hopes of winning a share of the Big Ten Championship.
Illinois (20-10, 12-7) needed to win their final two games to collect a share of the conference title, but Ohio State was unrelenting, coming back from deficits of 11, 9, and 8, durnig that game to ultimately dispatch the Illini, 71-63. Kaleb Wesson scored 19 in the victory, but it was E.J. Liddell’s 17 points and 11 rebounds off the bench (both season highs) that sparked Ohio State (21-10, 11-9) to victory earlier this week.
Sunday provided a similar framework for Ohio State’s next opponent. With a win, Michigan State (22-9, 13-6) became part of a three-way tie for the Big Ten championship along with Maryland and Wisconsin. The three are “co-champions” and each get a B1G championship trophy.
It was also senior day on Sunday for Cassius Winston, the Spartans’ leading scorer and an all-time MSU great. Winston’s brother Zachary committed suicide in the fall, and Michigan State coach Tom Izzo recently said that coaching this team through the tragedy has been “the most difficult thing he’s had to do in his career.” Winning a conference title with this team and what they’ve been through would be an impressive feat, but first they had to get through the Buckeyes.
With a win, Ohio State would have entered the Big Ten Tournament as the five-seed and would play the winner of the 12-13 game on Thursday. With a loss, they would either be the six or seven-seed, depending on the outcome of Sunday night’s matchup between Illinois and Iowa.
While the Buckeyes punched back several times Sunday after falling behind by as much as a dozen, ultimately they were not able to corral Winston and his Spartans, as Ohio State fell 80-69. After trailing by six at halftime, OSU came right out of the gate in the second half and tied the game 42-42.
They continued to go punch-for-punch with the Spartans until about the 10:00 mark, but Winston and Rocket Watts, who combined to score 46 points, were too much for the short-handed Buckeyes. Saddled with foul trouble early, Ohio State did not have much depth to lean on with Kyle Young, D.J. Carton, and Alonzo Gaffney all unavailable. Because of this, the Buckeyes had to play defense less aggressively, and Michigan State took full advantage.
Duane Washington Jr. led Ohio State with 16 points. CJ Walker chipped in 14 as well. MSU was led by Winston’s 27 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds.
What were the key plays from Ohio State’s loss on Sunday? Here are the moments that mattered:
Rocket Watts blasts off
With Ohio State leading 7-4 early, Michigan State went on a 12-0 run over the course of the next 2:12, including eight straight points from Michigan State freshman guard Rocket Watts. This early outburst gave Michigan State a 16-7 lead, forcing Holtmann to use a timeout at the 14:31 mark of the first half. Ohio State never regained the lead from that point on.
Muhammad’s trouble with Cassius
The matchup of Luther Muhammad guarding Cassius Winston was supposed to be a great one, with Muhammad being one of the best on-ball defenders in the conference and Winston being possibly the toughest guard in the conference to defend. Muhammad struggled right from tip, picking up two fouls in the first eight minutes, including fouling Winston on a three-pointer at the 12:29 mark. Winston hit all three free throws, giving MSU a 21-10 lead.
CJ Walker has really stepped up lately for Ohio State, averaging just over 14 points per game during their four-game winning streak. Winston has been doing it all season, averaging 18.3 points per game this season. Winston had 27 for MSU, while CJ Walker dropped 14 on seven-of-ten shooting. Walker’s coast to coast layup at the 1:00 mark of the first half pulled the Buckeyes to within four points, 36-32.
Tillman’s buzzer beater
On Michigan State’s final possession of the first half, with three Buckeyes collapsing around him, Xavier Tillman hit a fading, turnaround jumper at the buzzer to give the Spartans a 36-32 halftime lead.
The fadeaway! What a way to end the half. pic.twitter.com/j9kP1VuLSc— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 8, 2020
Big trouble on the boards
MSU out-rebounded Ohio State 36-30, including 11 offensive rebounds. Ohio State had only six offensive rebounds. Michigan State also had 14 second-chance points compared to Ohio State’s nine.
The Rocket returns
After his initial outburst, Watts stayed mostly quiet until the 9:35 mark of the second half, when he hit a three and was fouled by Walker. He hit the free throw, completing the four-point play. On the very next MSU possession, he was hand-checked by Walker, drawing the foul. Already in the bonus, Watts hit both free throws to give the Spartans a 62-51 lead. Watts would finish with 19, his third-highest scoring output of the season.
Washington Jr.’s shot clock-beating triple
At the 8:37 mark with Ohio State down 11, Duane Washington Jr. hit a three-pointer with the shot clock down to two seconds. His shot got the Buckeyes back to within eight points while Michigan State threatened to blow the game open. Washington Jr. would end the game with a team-high 16 points.
Ohio State’s next game won’t come until Thursday in the Big Ten Tournament. Ohio State will enter the tournament as either the six or seven seed, depending on the winner of tonight’s Iowa-Illinois game. The times for these games are still to be announced. All games will be played in Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. The first two rounds will be broadcast on BTN.