For the first time in 29 games between Ohio State and Michigan State, Tom Izzo saw a different face on the opposing bench Sunday evening.

And when the Buckeyes finished their upset of the No. 1 Spartans at Value City Arena, the Big Ten’s longest-tenured coach couldn’t help but reference the job done by Chris Holtmann’s predecessor that helped put the first-year coach in position for a signature win.

“Last year when we played here, they had a player that was talented but maybe not as good a team player and (Keita Bates-Diop wasn’t) playing half the year,” Izzo said. “As much as I give Chris credit, I think Thad (Matta) did the right thing getting rid of who he got rid of. They’ve got some juniors and seniors on (the roster) that are damn good and Chris has done a good job with them.”

The veiled reference to JaQuan Lyle, who scored 22 points in last year’s 72-67 Ohio State win at Value City Arena, wasn’t hard to catch. But the belief that Matta might have left the cupboard a little better-stocked than many gave him credit for when he was fired in early June was equally interesting.

Izzo credited the likes of senior Jae’Sean Tate and Bates-Diop for their roles in playing Ohio State into the national conversation in Holtmann’s first season. Asked whether he would text Matta after the game, Holtmann said he likely would call him this week and then also shared his thoughts on the man he replaced.

“I want to make very clear on this and make sure that this is said and spoken and tweeted: Thad and his coaching staff deserve a ton of credit for recruiting a young man like Keita Bates-Diop, and Jae’Sean Tate, and Kam Williams is really coming into his own,” Holtmann said.

“People ask me all the time what makes guys like Keita and JT good players, and I say first of all they’re exceptional people. Coach Matta and his staff deserve a ton of credit for recruiting those kind of people, because they’ve embraced a new coaching staff and they’ve done it the right way.”

After dethroning the nation’s top-ranked team, that group has improved to 13-4 overall and 4-0 in the Big Ten.

The Buckeyes have won three straight and eight of their last nine, but they remained outside of the top 25 in this week’s Associated Press poll released Monday. After not receiving a single vote all season to this point, Ohio State received 29 points, placing it at No. 29 nationally.

Izzo said he expected the Buckeyes to be ranked after the game. Holtmann downplayed all big-picture talk, swatting away discussion about Big Ten titles or the NCAA Tournament. He didn’t broach the topic on Monday during his weekly call-in radio show.

Whenever Ohio State is back in the national rankings, Izzo said that’s where it should be as a program.

“And I think for the most part Thad had it there,” he said. “I thought he did a great job and Chris, he left him something nice to work with and he has done a good job with that.”


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