Despite no longer being in the running for a Big Ten Championship with five conference losses, No. 4 Ohio State (18-6, 12-6) still had a ton to play for heading into the final three games of the regular season. Their loss to No. 3 Michigan on Sunday afternoon more or less put to bed any hopes of winning their first B1G title in nine years, but the Buckeyes are still fighting for a double-bye in the conference tournament (awarded to the top four teams) and for a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
While Ohio State could lose their final three games of the season and still comfortably make the big dance, their opponent on Thursday night can’t say the same. For the first time in 23 years, the Michigan State Spartans (13-9, 7-9) could miss the NCAA Tournament. Since he arrived in East Lansing, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has made the tournament 23 times in 25 seasons, made eight Final Fours, and won a national championship.
This year’s MSU team doesn’t look like they’re national title-bound, but they’ve been playing better lately, winning four of their last six games. They also have history on their side, as the Buckeyes have not won in East Lansing since the 2011-2012 season, when William Buford’s dagger with one second remaining sunk the Spartans and forced a three-way tie atop the Big Ten.
Despite their recent success, it still appears that the Spartans are on the outside looking in, having not appeared in any of FOX, ESPN, or CBS predicted brackets on Thursday. A win against the No. 4 team in the nation may have just changed that.
Ohio State — which was without senior forward Kyle Young on Thursday night due to a concussion — felt his absence immensely in the first half, getting out-rebounded 17-12 in the opening frame and allowing MSU to grab five offensive boards. Zed Key was solid filling in for Ohio State’s senior leader, scoring eight points on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting in the opening 20 minutes, but the already undersized Buckeyes had their work cut out for them without Young.
Despite shooting 56% from the floor in the first half, Ohio State led by just five points at halftime, and were led by Duane Washington Jr.’s 11 first-half points. CJ Walker was impressive as well, with six points and three assists in the opening frame. The Buckeyes’ offense was once again silky smooth in the opening 20, but its defense was hit-or-miss early on.
The second half was a back and forth affair with notably less scoring. The Buckeyes pushed the lead to as much as nine points, but were never able to get it to double digits, with Aaron Henry and Gabe Brown providing the offense in the second half. The Spartans tied it up with just over six minutes in the game, and took the lead in the closing moments. Down a point with less than 20 seconds to go, Washington’s layup was altered by Malik Hall and didn’t drop, and Michigan State’s NCAA Tournament hopes had new life.
Let’s run through some of the key moments — and statistics — that were pivotal in the Spartans’ potential season-saving victory over Ohio State.
Points for Duane Washington Jr. in the first 4:39 of the game
Washington has been scalding hot lately, most recently scoring a career-high 30 points against Michigan on Sunday. He wasn’t gun shy tonight either, scoring seven points on 3-of-4 shooting by the first media timeout. With Ohio State trailing 11-6 he dribbled towards the Michigan State bench before rising up and nailing a triple right in his defender’s face, bringing the Buckeyes back within two points. He would finish with 17 points on a less than efficient 7-of-16 shooting.
Points for Aaron Henry in the first 4:39 of the game
On the opposite side, Henry was the catalyst for the Michigan State offense in the opening minutes. He pushed Ohio State in transition when given the opportunity and knocked down a corner three early, setting the tone for a Spartans unit that desperately needed a win. Henry was averaging 19 points per game over his last five games before tonight, and finished with 18 points and four rebounds tonight.
Set of Zed Key finger guns
At the 15:00 mark of the first half and the Buckeyes trailing 11-9, Zed Key — who Ohio State had to lean on with Kyle Young out — got good position in the paint and went up with the left hand, converting the basket and taking a hard foul from Mady Sissoko. He missed the free throw, however, and the game stayed tied at 11.
Quick fouls on Josh Langford, who had a monster game against Illinois
Joshua Langford has underperformed for the most part this season, as he was a 15-point per game scorer in 2018 for the Spartans before injuring his foot last season and missing the whole year. Coming into this game, he was averaging 10 points per game, but had a massive game against No. 5 Illinois on Tuesday, scoring 13 points and yanking down 16 rebounds.
He was a player to watch in this one, but he played just nine minutes in the first half tonight after drawing two fouls in a seven-second span at the 9:25 mark of the first half. They were both ticky-tack fouls that could have been avoided, but you won’t see Ohio State complaining about it. Langford would finish with eight points, five assists, and four rebounds.
“Throw it off my own face” turnover by Malik Hall
While it wasn’t too relevant in the grand scheme of things, Malik Hall had an open transition layup opportunity with 8:09 left in the first half and the Spartans trailing 24-22. But as he went up with one hand the ball slipped and smacked him in the face, and then ricocheted out of bounds for a turnover. Good stuff.
Seconds left on the shot clock when Duane Washington released the basketball, yet was still called for a shot clock violation
With 2:28 left in the first half and the Buckeyes leading 35-33, Ohio State had a very poorly managed and congested offensive possession, resulting in Washington hoisting a deep, contested three-pointer from about seven feet behind the line. The ball banked in from straight away, but the referees had to review it for a potential shot clock violation.
Michigan State’s bench waved their arms vigorously in the “no good” motion, and after a very quick review, it was ruled that Washington did not get the shot off in time, and it was waved off. ESPN’s announcers voiced their disapproval with the decision on the broadcast, but surprisingly Chris Holtmann did not have a rebuttal for the officiating crew.
Missed shot by E.J. Liddell when Chris Holtmann received a technical foul
Chris Holtmann was visibly frustrated with how E.J. Liddell was officiated all night long, but he finally exploded three minutes into the second half with Ohio State leading 40-38. Liddell — who was being guarded by Thomas Kithier — went straight up from under the basket, and fought through Kithier’s arms to get the ball out. The shot was no good, Kithier grabbed the rebound, and Holtmann ran about five feet onto the floor, screaming at the official. Liddell was 1-of-9 shooting after the miss. A technical foul was immediately called, and assistant coach Ryan Pedon had to physically pull Holtmann back to the bench.
But the next time Liddell was under the basket in the exact same position, he drew the foul on Gabe Brown. Chris Holtmann: playing chess, not checkers. Or something.
Time remaining in the game when Michigan State tied the game
Marcus Bingham’s layup at the 6:42 mark brought the game back to even, 55-55. It was the first tie since the 6:30 mark of the first half, when the two teams were tied at 27.
Turnovers by Ohio State, their most in the past seven games
Games in a row scoring in double digits for CJ Walker
Walker — who is only averaging 9.1 points per game this season — has now scored in double digits in each of his last five games after he put up a dozen tonight.
Double-digit scorers for the Buckeyes
Liddell (18), Washington Jr. (17), Sueing (10), and Walker (12) all scored in double digits for Ohio State in a balanced day for the offense. Ohio State shot 44.2% overall, but just 33.3% in the second half. It was the first poor offensive day for the Buckeyes in over a month, dating back to their loss against Purdue.
Points scored by Ohio State
Is the fewest Ohio State has scored since Jan. 19 in their loss to Purdue.
Ohio State returns home to face No. 9 Iowa (17-7, 11-6) this Sunday, February 28. Tipoff is set for 4:00 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on CBS. The Hawkeyes are coming off an embarrassing, blistering 22-point loss to Michigan on Thursday evening, so expect Iowa to come into Columbus angry and focused, looking for a bounce back performance. These two teams faced off in Iowa City on Feb. 4, with the Buckeyes coming away with an 89-85 victory.