The “vibes” were not great in the Schottenstein Center Tuesday night against Nebraska, as the kids would say. The No. 23 Buckeyes (19-9, 12-7) were unable to overcome a second-half deficit to the Big Ten’s last-place team, losing by eight points. With injuries to Zed Key and Kyle Young, former walk-on Harrison Hookfin was even called on at one point in the game. After the loss, OSU senior guard Jamari Wheeler said his team didn’t come out with the necessary aggression and focus for the moment.
The vibes didn’t start out too great on Thursday, either, as it was announced about 90 minutes before tipoff that — in addition to Justice Sueing and Seth Towns — both Kyle Young and Zed Key would be unavailable due to injury/illness. Key sprained his ankle against Maryland last weekend, and Young took a few blows to the head against Nebraska that is now being classified as an “illness.” Regardless of what term they use for it, the Buckeyes were extremely thin going into this game against Michigan State (19-11, 10-9).
Source: Ohio State's Zed Key (ankle) and Kyle Young (illness) are both OUT for tonight's game against Michigan State.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 3, 2022
Young averages 8.2 PPG and 4.9 RPG.
Key averages 8.3 PPG and 5.4 RPG.
They were also extremely in need of a win, as they entered the night tied with Iowa (21-8, 11-7) for the fourth double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament. If the two teams finish with matching records over their final two games, Iowa wins the tiebreaker thanks to their win in Columbus on Feb. 19.
With all of those injuries in mind, Chris Holtmann went with a starting five of Jamari Wheeler, Malaki Branham, Gene Brown, E.J. Liddell, and Joey Brunk. It was Brunk’s third start of the season, although he was averaging just 1.3 points per game over roughly five minutes per contest. With no Key or Young available, Brunk was Holtmann’s only other option down low.
Tom Izzo trotted out Max Christie, A.J. Hoggard, Gabe Brown, Malik Hall, and Julius Marble. The Spartans are coming off a 17-point loss to in-state rival Michigan two nights ago.
For the first time in a long, long time, Ohio State came out the aggressor with an impressive 13-0 run to start the game. Eight of those points came courtesy of Liddell, but Branham and Brown each had a bucket as well. At the first media timeout right around the 15-minute mark, the Buckeyes led the Spartans 18-6. Quite a turnaround from their slow starts versus Maryland and Nebraska recently.
But after Ohio State’s fiery start, the Spartans went on a run of their own, outscoring the Buckeyes 25-14 over the next 10 minutes to pull back within two points at the under-8 media timeout. The Buckeyes were still hitting shots, but they were giving them back at the other end as well. Their once-massive lead quickly evaporated with every Spartan bucket.
After letting their lead dwindle down to just two points, the Buckeyes went into halftime leading 43-33. Liddell and Wheeler both had 12 points for the Buckeyes in the opening stanza, who shot 59.3% as a unit over the first 20 minutes. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham Jr. had 8 points apiece for the Spartans during the first half.
Brunk continued his wizardry in the second half, scoring four points before the first media timeout to bring his total to a team-high 14 points (at the time). Spartan defenders were biting on every shot fake, spin, and pivot. Brunk had Michigan State on skates for much of the game, which was a sentence I thought I would never type. The Buckeyes led 53-40 with 15:47 remaining.
Michigan State continued to score with the Buckeyes, but were not able to generate enough stops on defense to cut into the deficit. By the under-8 timeout, Ohio State still held a 64-51 lead. If this story sounds familiar to you, it’s because Ohio State was on the opposite end of that situation each of their last two games. Tonight, it was the Buckeyes who got ahead early and kept the Spartans at arm’s length for the most of the evening.
Even though they’ve fallen apart down the stretch a few times this season, no such collapse happened tonight. Behind massive games from Branham, Brunk, and Wheeler, the Buckeyes vanquished Michigan State by a final score of 80-69. It was a game Ohio State had to have for more reason than one, and thanks to one large, bearded, unlikely hero, they did it.
Branham led Ohio State with 22 points on 9-of-16 shooting, plus four rebounds, four assists, and two steals. Liddell, Brunk, and Wheeler all scored in double-digits as well. Gabe Brown had 13 points for Michigan State.
If you weren’t able to catch all of Joey Brunk’s basketball game tonight, here are a few key moments that led to the Buckeyes much-needed victory in the Schott.
Who wants it bad? Liddell wants it bad.
Despite a 27-point, 14 rebound performance against Nebraska Tuesday night, Liddell was furious and fuming in the closing minutes. He was trying to get the crowd and his teammates into it, but it just didn’t happen. The desperation was clear on Ohio State’s star player’s face as his team lost to the worst team in the Big Ten on their home floor two nights ago.
Tonight, Liddell channeled that attitude and directed it all at the Spartans, scoring eight points over the first 2:18 to help give his Buckeyes a 13-0 lead over MSU in the opening minutes. After playing on their heels for the better part of two weeks, Ohio State was the aggressor.
Liddell finished with 19 points on 6-12 shooting, plus eight rebounds, three assists, and a block.
Brown gets the Spartans within two
Trailing 24-19 with 8:09 remaining in the first half, Brown connected on his second consecutive three-pointer to cut Ohio State’s lead — that was 14 points at one point — down to just two. After missing their first three shots, the Spartans hit nine of their next 15 (60%) to make it a one-possession game.
Wheeler stays hot, but Bingham swings back
Wheeler entered the game shooting 37.8% from three-point land this season, although he is hesitant to let it rip at times. The Spartans backed off of him during the first half of tonight’s game, and he responded by knocking down four triples over the first 20 minutes. His three-pointer with 4:01 to go in the first half gave Ohio State a 39-27 lead, but MSU’s Marcus Bingham Jr. answered the bell at the other end with his own bomb, getting the Spartans back within nine points.
Wheeler finished with 16 points on 5-11 shooting, including 4-8 from beyond the arc. He also had two rebounds and a steal. Bingham finished with 11 points on 4-6 shooting over 17 minutes.
A steady diet of Sir Joseph Brunk
As we all expected, Brunk saved his best game as a Buckeye for when his team was desperate and needed it most. He had a season-high 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting over 17 first-half minutes, and at one point Ohio State actually ran their offense through Brunk instead of their All-American candidate, Liddell. His previous season-high was six points against Indiana on Jan. 6.
Brunk scored eight more in the second half, bringing his total to 18 — the most he’d scored since January 9, 2019 against Seton Hall while he was a member of the Butler Bulldogs. He played a season-high 33 minutes.
Ceddy P cans a three
Leading 55-43 with 14:38 remaining, Cedric Russell knocked down his first shot of the game — a three-pointer— to give the Buckeyes a 58-43 lead. This was their largest lead of the night until Walker nailed a floater at the other end for MSU, getting it back to 58-45, Buckeyes.
Russell finished with those three points plus one rebound over 12 minutes.
Brown cuts the lead to 11
Trailing 62-49 with roughly nine minutes remaining remaining, Gabe Brown knocked down a long two to get Michigan State back within 11 points, the closest they’d been in over nine minutes. Immediately after that, Liddell was fouled by Joey Hauser on a mid-range jumper, sending him to the line. Liddell knocked down both FT’s to give the Buckeyes a 64-51 lead with 8:07 left in the game.
Brown led MSU with 13 points on 5-9 shooting over 31 minutes.
Liddell’s and-one bucket makes it 72-58
With an 11-point lead and 4:31 remaining in the game, Liddell found a favorable mismatch against Walker near the right elbow. Liddell backed him down twice, spun around and nailed the jumper. A foul was called as well, and Liddell sunk the free throw. Ohio State led 72-58 with 4:31 left in the ballgame.
MALAKI BRANHAM ON HIS HEAD
Leading by a dozen and just under four minutes remaining, Branham took the rock and dribbled to his left, past Christie. He soared to the basket with his left hand and slammed it home over top of 7-footer Marcus Bingham, and the Schott exploded. Ohio State pushed their lead to 14, 74-60.
Branham finished with a team-high 22 points over 35 minutes, which was also a team-high.
No. 23 Ohio State (19-9, 12-7) will honor the seniors on Sunday afternoon against Michigan (16-12, 10-8) at the Schottenstein Center. The defending Big Ten champion Wolverines are solidly on the NCAA Tournament bubble, but a road win in Columbus would likely send them to the big dance. The two teams last met on Feb. 12 in Ann Arbor, with Ohio State winning 68-57. A win would give the Buckeyes a season sweep over their rival, with the Big Ten Tournament pending.
Ohio State’s game versus Michigan will tip off at 12:30 p.m. ET and will be nationally televised on FOX.