EAST LANSING, Mich. – This was a winnable game for Ohio State.
Yes, that sounds like crazy talk after the fact. The box score from a historically poor offensive performance indicates that the Buckeyes had no real chance of winning Sunday afternoon at No. 11 Michigan State, especially coming off a three-point home loss to Illinois only three days prior.
And yet, the Buckeyes match up better with the Spartans than they do against the Fighting Illini. So much of what this team does depends on how much it turns the ball over, so here are some relevant stats:
* Illinois is No. 12 nationally with a defensive turnover percentage of 23.4 percent.
* Michigan State is No. 329 in that category at 15.4 percent.
* Offensively, Ohio State is No. 248 nationally in turnover percentage at 19.8.
So what does this tell us? While Michigan State is clearly a better team than Illinois, the Spartans are a better matchup because they don’t overly pressure the ball. We saw that in the first meeting between these teams, when if not for C.J. Jackson’s significant cramping issues Ohio State probably turns an 86-77 loss into a 13th win in 14 games to open the year.
When the Buckeyes took a 31-25 lead into the half at the Breslin Center, the path was there. Ohio State was 14 of 35 from the floor, had hit half of its six three-point attempts and only committed four turnovers. This was a recipe for success, and one that figured to only get tastier once Nick Ward emerged for the second half with his left, dominant hand in a protective wrap.
But with a chance for a season-altering win, the Buckeyes sputtered in a major way during the second half. The details were hashed out in the game recap and in the sidebar, both of which will be posted to BuckeyeXtra.com before long, but it’s hard to turn away from the evidence that the offense is struggling in a major way right now.
“We tried a variety of things,” coach Chris Holtmann said of the offense. “We tried playing through the post, tried playing through Kaleb (Wesson), tried playing through Andre (Wesson) a few times. Outside of a couple actions we ran out of timeouts we didn’t have a whole lot of luck.”
No Ohio State player made more than one second-half shot. Kaleb Wesson, Keyshawn Woods, C.J. Jackson and Kyle Young were the four Buckeyes to make a field goal. At the same time, five Buckeyes had two second-half turnovers: Luther Muhammad, Musa Jallow, Keyshawn Woods and both Wesson brothers.
“They’re turning it over more than they maybe could and should and I think we’re right next to them,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “That’s not an insult to them, it’s an insult to us, but those things create problems offensively for you. And they had a couple shots, too, (that they missed).”
The turnover woes have been well-documented. The offensive issues today have been as well. It led me to wonder if, as a half like the one the Buckeyes endured during the second progresses, the missed shots become contagious.
“I think if you’re weak-minded it gets contagious,” Holtmann said. “I think if you’re a guy that’s tough-minded you say it’s a good shot and I just missed it and I’ve got to get another good shot next time. Hopefully we’ve got a little more intestinal fortitude than that.”
Added Kaleb Wesson, “It’s not hard to hit shots. It’s not contagious. As a player, you should just get to the next play.”
Sunday afternoon, it just didn’t happen. The Buckeyes have now been held below 60 points in three straight games and four of their last six. In those six games, two of them have seen Ohio State finish with fewer than 50 points.
“I think you give Michigan State credit, too, for how they defended, particularly in the second half, but really throughout the game,” Holtmann said. “I’m confident that we’ll be better offensively and we’ll make those shots around the perimeter and at the rim that we missed.”
The new face
Lightly used freshman Thomas Kithier made things difficult for Kaleb Wesson during the second half. With Xavier Tillman on the bench in foul trouble and Ward unable to play, the Ohio State sophomore wasn’t able to take advantage.
After Tillman went out with his fourth foul with 11:40 to play, Wesson missed two field goals, had two turnovers and was 2 for 4 from the free-throw line as he struggled to establish post position on Kithier.
“I thought Kaleb had some really good moments,” Holtmann said. “He did get fatigued today, more so than I remember him getting fatigued in a game. That’s why we had to take him out on several occasions.”
Izzo, too, noted that he felt Wesson looked tired. It came after a physical first-half matchup against Ward that saw the two Central Ohio products trade blows at each end of the court.
At the half, Wesson had eight points on 4-of-9 shooting and five rebounds while Ward had nine points on 3 of 7 shooting and four rebounds.
“I feel like we battled,” Wesson said. “I missed a lot of shots today. I feel like he played good defense. Just wait until the next time. I’m not used to getting calls anyway. Fouls, I get fouled almost every possession if you look at the film.”
Izzo said Ward had dislocated a finger on his left hand and his status going forward is unknown.
Here’s what it looked like as the Buckeyes took the court for the final time before facing the Spartans.
Video! Watch the #Buckeyes take the court for the final time before facing the #Spartans. pic.twitter.com/L2dv24cA2O— Adam Jardy (@AdamJardy) February 17, 2019
*Kaleb Wesson finished with a team-high nine rebounds, while brother Andre added eight.
*Jallow had seven rebounds as the Buckeyes won the rebounding battle, 39-37, and limited Michigan State to seven offensive boards.
*The Buckeyes were only 8 for 19 on layups and had eight shots blocked.
“I’d like for us to be a little bit longer but that’s not going to happen,” Holtmann said. “I think we were not great at finishing in transition and that’s where we get some of our shots blocked, but I want us to continue to be aggressive. I think we can use our shot-fake at times more than what we do. I know Kaleb got one or two blocked. They’ve got to keep putting themselves in good position.”
“At times we could’ve moved it better. At times we looked a little bit slow out there in terms of our pace. I’ll have to look and see if that’s the fatigue but we looked a little slow.” – Holtmann, on his team’s ball movement