CHICAGO — There’s not a lot about this year’s series with Michigan State that makes sense for Ohio State.
When the teams met at Value City Arena in January, the Buckeyes were riding high at 12-1 and nationally ranked when they were leading the Spartans 72-71 with 4:53 to play. From there, Kaleb Wesson fouled out, Ohio State faltered and Michigan State closed with a 15-5 run for a nine-point win.
Roughly six weeks later at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Michigan, the Buckeyes led 31-25 at halftime and were tied at 42 with 7:40 left before everything fell apart. Michigan State closed with a 20-2 run, blowing past the Buckeyes for a 62-44 win in which Ohio State scored only 13 second-half points.Join the conversation at Facebook.com/BuckeyeXtra and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
So it made sense that Friday’s Big Ten tournament quarterfinal would feature odd runs that eventually led to a Michigan State win. This time, it was a 24-8 Michigan State run that turned a five-point lead into a 21-point blowout until the Buckeyes put together a 16-0 run to help settle into a 77-70 loss.
Coach Chris Holtmann said Michigan State is the best league team he has faced in his two seasons with Ohio State. And against that backdrop, does it say anything that the Buckeyes were able to hang with the Spartans for significant stretches and outplay them for others even if they came up short each time?
“There’s some encouragement from that, for sure,” he said. “I also think in some ways we match up better against them than some other teams. We’ve really competed against them. Obviously at our place, it got away in the last five minutes. At their place, it was such an odd second half, struggling to score, and they had a lot to do with that.
“I just think how complete they are and how sound they are top to bottom, and they have an incredible point guard and outstanding players, but they’re so sound. Last year’s team had more top-end talent for them, but I think this year’s team is much more complete.”
In building a 72-71 lead in the first game and the 42-42 tie in the second, Ohio State outscored Michigan State 114-113 in those 67 minutes, 27 seconds of action. In the other 12:33, the Spartans outscored the Buckeyes 35-7.
Then came the dueling runs Friday.
“There was a stretch where they hit a couple tough shots,” freshman guard Duane Washington Jr. said. “We had a couple empty possessions, some turnovers, we got in foul trouble pretty early. We still fought and we still played hard and we were still right in it.”
They just weren’t good enough. Foul troubles, missed shots and too many turnovers all had a say in that outcome.
“Their depth on the interior was a factor for us,” Holtmann said. “Older bodies against this team are really important. Older bodies, and older minds, when you’re playing Michigan State is really important. You can’t attack them with recklessness.
“There has to be a real understanding of how you’re attacking them, so you really need older bodies and older minds in most situations in order to compete against this Michigan State team, which is better than last year’s. I said that midseason, I thought they were clearly a better team than last year’s.”
The house that Woods built
There’s something about the United Center that brings out the best in Keyshawn Woods. Ohio State played four games at the home of the Chicago Bulls this season, and they were four of Woods’ absolute best.
He followed up an 18-point outburst against Indiana on Thursday by scoring 16 against the Spartans. He had eight in a row early until a second foul sent him to the bench for a while, throwing a wrench into the Ohio State offense.
When you factor in a win here against Illinois and a nonconference win against UCLA in the CBS Sports Classic, Woods averaged 14.5 points at Michael Jordan’s old home while shooting 54.8 percent (23 of 42) from the field with 17 assists and eight turnovers.
In his other 29 games this season, Woods averaged 6.8 points and shot 38.3 percent (69 of 180) from the field with 62 assists and 33 turnovers.
“I thought he was really good again,” Holtmann said after the game. “Foul trouble killed us with that, it just really hurt us with him and Kaleb (Wesson). It wasn’t just Kaleb, right? It was really our perimeter that right now is playing with the most confidence. That stymied him a little bit, but I feel great about how he’s playing, I really do.”
Who was that?
Even with the injuries the team has suffered, Michigan State has multiple dangerous players who, as Holtmann pointed out, bring experience to the court.
One name who doesn’t fill that bill and hadn’t garnered much of a mention, if any, on the scouting report was Foster Loyer. Then the freshman guard channeled his inner Drew Neitzel, making his first four three-pointers off the bench and finishing with a career-high 14 points.
Were the Buckeyes worried about him coming into the game?
“I mean, unfortunately not,” junior forward Andre Wesson said. “He wasn’t really on the scouting report, but credit to him. He came out and hit some big shots for them.”
Loyer entered Friday with four made three-pointers all season, only one of which came in Big Ten play. He was averaging 1.4 points in 5.8 minutes.
Woods carried the Buckeyes about as far as he could, and Kaleb Wesson was sitting for most of the second half first in foul trouble and then after he fouled out near the midpoint.
Senior C.J. Jackson was struggling, finishing with eight points on 3-of-10 shooting in 27:59. With his options limited and Michigan State up big, Holtmann went young and saw some results. The final lineup that played all but the final eight seconds of the late Ohio State run consisted of:
“You’ve got to give credit to our younger guys,” Woods said. “Our whole motto is not giving up, and Duane, Luther, Musa, Dre, all those guys who were still out there were still playing hard and not giving up. We cut the lead down. That’s credit to them.”
Added Holtmann: “I loved how we finished the game. I thought how we finished it says a lot about us. A bounce or two there maybe it’s a different position, but it was nice to see Izzo have to put his older guys in.”
“If you watched me play, that’s my spin. My spin is I come through with my elbows out. That’s how I was taught. Guards will come in there, and if you keep your elbows down, people are going to swipe on the ball. I was taught to keep my elbows up on my turns, and a shorter guy got caught today. I don’t know what they wanted me to do about it.” — Kaleb Wesson, on his Flagrant 1 foul