CHICAGO — Kaleb Wesson, all 6 feet 9 and 270 pounds of him, caught the ball on the left block and felt the mismatch. There, on his hip, was Michigan State guard Matt McQuaid, who surrendered four inches and 70 pounds to the Ohio State sophomore center.
With the Big Ten tournament quarterfinal tied at 40 and the Buckeyes rolling in the early moments of the second half, Wesson did what he’s been taught: elbows up, spin over your right shoulder and lay it in. So he tried, drawing contact with McQuaid as he went up for a shot that didn’t fall.
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McQuaid nearly did, though. Wesson’s elbow swing caught the senior right in the chops, resulting in a flagrant foul. Instead of Ohio State keeping the ball, McQuaid hit two free throws, Foster Loyer threw in a three-pointer for a five-point possession and, despite a late rally, the Buckeyes never got any closer the rest of the way in a 77-70 loss to the Spartans at the United Center.
“It wasn’t intentional by Kaleb at all,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “The kid went right under and he was about to make a post move. That’s his move. I’m not saying I don’t think it was the right call, I just thought it was a really unlucky situation for him.”
Still trailing by five with 11:41 to play, Ohio State (19-14) dug itself an insurmountable hole. Michigan State (26-6) built a 75-54 lead with a 24-8 run over the next seven minutes during which Wesson fouled out, the Buckeyes missed six of eight shots and committed four turnovers.
The Buckeyes — as has been the case for much of the season — rallied. A 16-0 run cut it to a five-point deficit, but only 8.8 seconds remained and Michigan State’s Cassius Winston hit two free throws to set the final score.
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“We just stuck with it, took it possession by possession, played hard and just didn’t give up,” said freshman guard Duane Washington Jr., one of the players on the court for the final run. “That’s one thing that us as a team here at Ohio State, we have a passion and a love for the game that we’re not going to give up, we’re not going to quit. We’re going to play hard.”
That much had been evident early. The Buckeyes got eight of their first 10 points from graduate transfer Keyshawn Woods for a 10-6 lead. Then he was whistled for a charge with 13:51 to play that sent him to the bench with two fouls.
Woods finished with 16 points. In four games at the United Center this season, he averaged 14.5 points compared with 6.8 in the other 29 games. He had 18 against Indiana.
“I’m just trying to be as aggressive as I can for this team and do whatever I can so we can win games,” he said. “We’ve got to be better with our fouls, especially me, the two charges that I got.”
Michigan State got 18 points from Winston and 14 from Loyer, a lightly used freshman who hit his first four threes against the Buckeyes after having made four all season.
“Our turnovers were too much offensively, but they made shots that were fairly challenged,” Holtmann said. “As a coach, you hope that water will find its level at some point.”