The Ohio State men’s basketball team, ranked No. 14 in the nation, hosted No. 8 Michigan State in Value City Arena on Saturday. Here were two ranked teams — one up-and-coming, the other with a powerhouse pedigree — colliding with a noontime tipoff in front of a national television audience and a sold-out arena. Close your eyes and you almost could hear Mills Lane, the great boxing judge and Claymation star of “Celebrity Deathmatch,” growling, “Let’s get it on.”
The crowd was about as loud as it has ever been in the Schott at the tail end of the first half. There was this play.
Big Kaleb Wesson stole the ball, dove into the first row to save it, and tipped it to C.J. Jackson, who lunged and lobbed the ball in the direction of Andre Wesson, who one-touched the ball back to Jackson, who penetrated to the right elbow and dropped a pass back to Andre Wesson, who took a dribble inside the arc and then drop-passed to Duane Washington Jr. — who stuck a three from the corner. Boom.
Moments later, Ohio State took a 43-36 lead into halftime and there was this feeling that a there was a statement being written. Ultimately, it was this: Michigan State (12-2, 4-0) kept its cool and drew away for an 86-77 Big Ten victory over the Buckeyes (12-2, 2-1).
“They were better than us in a lot of ways,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “Certainly, when you allow a team to shoot 76 percent in the second half and score 50 points on your home floor, your chances are slim and none.”
There were 14 lead changes in the game — nine in the second half. It was clear that these were two solid teams, worthy of their respective rankings. This could have been one of those games where the last team that had the ball wins, but it evolved differently.
Even in the first half, the Spartans were both getting to the rim and getting open looks from beyond the three-point line. They just weren’t very efficient offensively — or tight defensively. Goodness, they fell prey to a number of back-door cuts. Not very Sparty.
At halftime, Izzo talked to his players about the defense and he was probably very colorful in his elocution. He always looks like his dog slipped a leash about an hour ago, and he can flat-out elocute — but he was not worried. Not exactly.
“I was comfortable,” Izzo said. “I was like, ‘Oh, the roof didn’t cave in.’ … Our experience showed in the second half.”
The play-by-play tells the tale. Michigan State made the Buckeyes chase them down the stretch. Foul trouble didn’t help the chasers.
Let’s pick it up with 3:17 remaining and the Buckeyes trailing 75-72. Geiger’s Canyon is rocking. Plenty of time. Anyone’s game.
Ohio State, in its next seven possessions, missed five shots — including a layup and an air-balled three — turned the ball over twice and scored three points. Both Kaleb and Andre Wesson fouled out during this stretch.
Michigan State was not error-free in this interlude when the game was won, but the Spartans maintained control with aplomb, milked their possessions, made their free throws. Their three-point lead turned into an eight-point lead in 98 seconds of clock.
With 39 seconds remaining and time called on the floor, the fans in the lower bowl of the canyon started heading for the exits.
It’s January. The conference schedule is just underway in earnest. This was an early test for Ohio State and what the Buckeyes got out of it was a little taste of pressure and a lot of valuable video. They can be impressive.