EAST LANSING, Mich. – Ohio State is going to have to figure out what it can still salvage from a season that is, barring a significant winning streak, almost certainly pointed toward a return to the NIT.


With a modest two-game winning streak compiled at Michigan and at home against Rutgers, the Buckeyes battled No. 21 Maryland on Saturday but came up nine points short in their upset bid while playing without sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle. Whispered as a bubble candidate entering that game, Ohio State still had five games remaining with chances for marquee wins at Michigan State and at home against conference-leader Wisconsin.


Then tonight, for a second straight game, the Buckeyes played with energy and emotion but came up on the wrong end of a single-digit defeat. Michigan State got off to a hot start, put together 6-0 runs to close the first half and open the second half and fended off Ohio State down the stretch in a 74-66 win that gives the Buckeyes nine Big Ten losses – their most in coach Thad Matta’s 13 seasons.


Now, needing to likely sweep their final four games of the year and make some significant noise in the Big Ten tournament, Ohio State has to try and figure out what it wants to be known for.


“We just have to striving to want to win games,” senior forward Marc Loving said. “We’re competing with guys, but it’s not good enough. It’s something we’ve been talking about all year, keep competing for 40 minutes. We’re not going to play perfect, but we have to keep fighting and cover up our mistakes.


“We’re right there. We’ve been in almost all our games, but we’ve just got to keep competing in practice and hone in on our film and take every day for what it’s worth and get better.”


Ohio State is now 2-9 against top-50 RPI teams, and six of those losses are by single digits. Three of the losses are by a combined five points.


The Buckeyes host Nebraska on Saturday and the Badgers on Feb. 23 before going to Penn State five days later and closing the regular season with a March 4 home game against Indiana.


“Three of the four are at home, so first of all we have to protect our home court,” said sophomore JaQuan Lyle, who returned from a family emergency. “Keep competing, day-in and day-out in practice. These last two games I think are the hardest we’ve competed – well I didn’t play at Maryland, but I could tell the guys competed like crazy. These last two games I feel like we’ve competed at a high level and we have to make that the standard from here on out.”



Michigan State got going in a big way early thanks to a career night from Alvin Ellis III. The senior guard buried his first five three-pointers, the final of which gave the Spartans a 21-12 lead. When play was stopped with 11:34 to play and the lead at 23-14, the full-throated Izzone student section chanted his name as he was swarmed while heading back to the bench.


His career high was three three-pointers in a single game, and he would predictably cool. He finished with a team-high 18 points but only hit one of his final six three-pointers.


“We know he’s a really good shooter,” Loving said. “He was able to get some good looks, and luckily for them he converted.”


Ellis wasn’t a primary player Ohio State prepared for, but, “somehow, some way you’ve got to adjust,” Matta said. “It’s basketball. You’ve got a guy with a hot hand you’ve got to find a way to attempt to slow him down a little bit and we weren’t able to do that.”


Asked what he learned tonight, Loving said, “We learned Alvin Ellis can shoot the ball at a very high rate. He came out and wasn’t missing. He was hot and that got a lot of momentum for them.”



After the Rutgers game, Matta mentioned that Lyle’s ankle must have been hurting more than the coaches knew because he took his shoe and tape off inside the locker room at halftime.


Lyle said after the Michigan State game that while he was still hurt, doing so was a mistake.


“The Rutgers game, I was banged up,” he said. “I actually took my shoe off and my tape off at halftime because I was in so much pain that game. That was unacceptable, but playing basketball, whatever coach Matta thinks is best I’m going to go with it and support it 100 percent.”



A common theme with this team, especially with the injury to Keita Bates-Diop, has been that everyone needs to contribute for things to go well. That was again shown tonight when the Buckeyes got 22 points from Loving – his second straight 20-plus-point game – but not much from other key players.


Leading scorer Jae’Sean Tate, who averages 14.3 points per game and had scored in double figures in 12 straight games, tied a season low with seven points on 3-of-8 shooting. He finished with four fouls, three of which came in the first half and limited him to 12 minutes and no points.


Center Trevor Thompson, who averages 10.8 points, finished with six points on only four shots. He fouled out for a second straight game.


Junior guard Kam Williams entered the game averaging 10.6 points for the year but only 8.7 against ranked teams, games in which he was shooting 36.8 percent from the field (21 for 57) and 21.7 percent from three (5 for 23). The Spartans aren’t ranked, but he was 2 for 10 against them and 1 for 3 from three for five points.


“We couldn’t get over the hump,” Matta said. “We couldn’t make the plays when we needed to make the plays. Obviously the start Michigan State-slash-Ellis got off to, he was on fire. The foul trouble got us, especially there in the first half, but we just couldn’t make the plays. We got the shots we wanted, they didn’t go down for us and give them credit, they made some big-time plays.”



“Obviously the ball went in for us a little bit and I thought we did a little better job of getting back. We had two rebounds we lost out of bounds. I thought our guys competed. C.J. has a couple wide-open looks that didn’t go down. Jaquan had a three to tie it and didn’t shoot it. We’re right there. We’ve got to find a way to make the plays we need to make at the right time.” – Matta