This was a don’t-trust-your-eyes game, so unexplainable that you rub your knuckles into your orbital sockets to make sure what you’re watching is real.
Unranked Ohio State 80, No. 1 Michigan State 64. Rub eyes. Blink hard. Rub eyes. Yep, real.
This was like Iowa 55, Buckeyes 24 in football. Did that just happen? Yep, happened. Blink hard once. Twice. Shake head.
If not completely unbelievable, what transpired Sunday afternoon was borderline amazing. To steal a line from a writing friend, my flabber was gasted. Here was Ohio State, with just one potential future NBA player in Keita Bates-Diop, against Michigan State with two potential NBA lottery picks in Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. And Bates-Diop got the best of them both, scoring a career-high 32 points while Bridges languished and Jackson fouled out.
But this jaw-dropper went beyond each team’s best players. The Spartans are deeper than Chicago pizza. The Buckeyes are thin crust. They’re improving, but no one saw this coming. Not even coach Chris Holtmann, the best hire that Ohio State has made in awhile.
Holtmann called the win over Sparty surreal, explaining that “moments like this can (give) us a glimpse of what can occur.”
And quite a 40-minute moment it was, turning a wait-and-see program into a “just wait, you’ll see” team that with each win further proves that the Buckeyes got the right guy in Holtmann and rid themselves of the wrong guys in Marc Loving, JaQuan Lyle and …
Holtmann refused to include Thad Matta in that group.
“Thad and his staff deserve tons of credit for recruiting guys like Keita and (Jae’Sean Tate),” for recruiting those kind of (quality) people,” he said, emphatically.
As for those two people in particular, even the Hallmark channel doesn’t craft cornball this syrupy and feel-good. Here was a beaming Bates-Diop, who until this season might as well have gone by Bates-Potential-Diop, so much was his game based on promise over performance, largely because of injuries but also because, in part, “the new coaching staff came in and made us all feel very comfortable in our roles,” he said.
Here was a glowing Tate, whose injured shoulders could double as soufflés, so delicate is their condition. The senior could not stop smiling, so satisfying was the 16-point win, and maybe even more that the Buckeyes did not fold in the second half.
Here also were the Ohio State fans, whose pained expressions the past few seasons were a cross between LeBron James begging for a foul call and me trying to rise from a bean bag chair.
But then came Sunday, when the Buckeyes brought the crowd of 17,599 to its feet in Value City Arena. Suddenly, finally, there was joy in Who-h-i-o-ville.
To his credit, Holtmann tried to put the brakes on things with his Han Solo-like “Don’t get cocky” comments.
“We don’t know much at this point,” he said. “We certainly do not want this moment to define us. We don’t want this to be the pinnacle of our season, as good as it is.”
Maybe not, but as high points go this was a signature win that in a few years could be looked upon as a seminal moment in the program’s recent history, much as the win against No. 1 Illinois was for the Buckeyes under Matta in 2005.
Again, Holtmann hedged.
“Nobody is ready to crown us or give us anything,” he said. “The challenge now is how will we respond from this win?”
True enough, but for one night it was enough that the response was both unexplainable and incredible.