Notes: Kyle Young, Ohio State enjoy rare type of win against slumping Michigan State
Amid the celebration came a moment of appreciation for Kyle Young.
Sunday afternoon, No. 13 Ohio State took the lead exactly 200 seconds into its game against unranked Michigan State, never trailed from there and built it as high as 20 points in what would be a 79-62 win inside Value City Arena. It ended a four-game losing streak at the hands of the Spartans that dated back to one of the signature wins during Chris Holtmann’s first season – and Young’s freshman year – when Ohio State knocked off No. 1 Michigan State on January 7, 2018.
That game is remembered for Andrew Dakich’s three-point heave at the end of the first half that propelled the Buckeyes to a decisive win in front of a packed crowd. After having missed the NCAA Tournament during each of the two previous seasons, the Buckeyes were back and excitement was building.
Young played 12 minutes in that game. Classmate Musa Jallow played 10. Neither of them scored. No player on this year’s Ohio State roster had scored in that game, and only Young and Jallow remained.
Sunday, Young had six points and seven rebounds while battling foul trouble in what was Ohio State’s biggest win against the Spartans in nearly 33 years.
“It felt good,” Young said. “Our plan was to come out, set the rules early, be the more aggressive team, tougher team. We were able to do that offensively and defensively early on, which helped carry us.”
What went through his head when he saw that final score?
“It’s huge,” he said. “Anytime you can get a win in the Ten, a win in general is going to feel good. You go out there and compete for 40 minutes. You put a lot into it. We haven’t gotten a win in a while against them. It felt good.”
In a battle of two teams heading in opposite directions, Ohio State won its third straight and sixth in its last seven while Michigan State endured its second three-game losing streak of the year. This one, though, comes off a 20-day layoff while the Spartans battled COVID issues and during which they couldn’t practice for 11 days.
The 17-point win was Ohio State’s biggest against Michigan State since a 90-72 home win on February 9, 1987.
“A ton of respect for Michigan State and the team that they have,” coach Chris Holtmann said. “Obviously they’re coming back from a tough deal and playing a couple times here. There’s not a better late-season coaching the country than Tom. Obviously when we see them here in a few weeks we know it’s going to be a much different team.
“I thought we were able to control certain aspects of the game. Things we focused on, I though they took into the game plan. We still have some possessions we need to fix and things we need to do better. That weighs on me as much as anything. Really good win for our team.”
Holtmann’s point about the rematch currently scheduled for February 25 remains valid, but that worry will live another day. At 14-4 overall and 8-4 in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes end January positioned near the top of the Big Ten standings with a big road game looming at Iowa on Thursday.
“It’s hard not to look at those things, but we just focus on trying to get better every day,” Young said. “That’s what we’ve been doing. Being able to see the hard work pay off is nice, but we’ve got a lot of season left, a lot of big games to play.”
That’s what winning does. It makes the next game even bigger, because now there’s even more to play for. Sunday night, the Buckeyes showed what that feels like.
“I’m just happy we’re winning, happy my teammates are doing good,” Young said. “It’s never really been about the personal glorification. Just happy we’re winning. We’ve been playing tough, putting in a lot of hard work, seeing it pay off.”
CJ Walker, Kyle Young hit big shots
For the game, Ohio State shot 45.5% from the floor (25 for 55), 6 for 18 from three (33.3%) and 51.4% from two (19 for 37).
Two of those two-point shots in particular loomed large, and they came late in the game. After taking a double-digit lead with 2:12 left in the first half, Ohio State built it as high as 20 but thanks to foul troubles (more on that a moment) and some empty offensive possessions the Spartans were able to get within single digits with a 10-2 run with about four minutes to play.
It was a 10-point lead when Walker hit a jumper from the free-throw line to push it back to a 72-60 lead. Then, two possessions later, Young nabbed an offensive rebound off of an airballed shot. With the shot clock about to expire and no other options, he lofted a shot from the right baseline to put Ohio State ahead 76-62 and put an exclamation point on the win.
“It did feel good coming off,” Young said. “I’m not gonna lie. It was nice to see it go through.”
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In his third game back after missing four with torn ligaments in his right hand, Walker finished with 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting with three steals and three turnovers.
“I thought it was a big play,” Holtmann said of Walker’s late jumper. “He got to his right hand pull-up, which he’s really effective at. It’s been great having him back. I thought his ball handling was important for us. I thought our guys did a good job getting what we wanted there.”
Walker said his hand continues to progress.
“It’s feeling really good,” he said. “I’m still doing treatments after games. I’m still wearing my split to make sure it’s recovering to get all the way back to 110%. I feel really good. I’m going to keep getting better, keep making plays for my team to win.”
Meechie Johnson learns a lesson
Since his arrival in mid-December, freshman Meechie Johnson Jr. has routinely been praised by the Ohio State coaching staff for his willingness to be coached and his rapid growth during what should be his senior season of high school basketball.
During the first half of today’s game, he learned a firsthand lesson about diving on the floor for a loose ball when he didn’t, Michigan State took possession and Holtmann rather sternly addressed him.
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“Meechie’s going to be a terrific player,” Holtmann said. “He’s going to play more at times. He should still be in high school. Meechie was great. I thought there was a loose ball he probably needed to get to, but he’s done such great things for this group already and I think he will continue to throughout the season.”
In his last three games, Johnson has played three, four and three minutes for the Buckeyes, scoring two points. Walker said he’s been impressed with how the freshman has handled the transition.
“Me and Meechie got a great understanding of each other,” Walker said. “He’s just learning. He’s young. He skipped high school to be here. That’s a big adjustment to do. He’s in a really tough situation. Teams are rolling right now. He’s willing to listen to coaches or myself. He’s not afraid to ask questions or ask for help. He plays really hard. He’s a good kid. I can only see him going up from here.”
Duane Washington Jr. struggling
Holtmann has consistently praised the other aspects of his game, but junior guard Duane Washington Jr. endured a third straight tough-shooting game.
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In a six-game stretch, Washington averaged 17.7 points per game and shot 13 for 32 from two (40.6%), 22 for 46 from three (47.8%) and 35 for 78 overall (44.9). Against the Spartans, Washington was 2 for 10 from the floor, 2 for 6 from three and 0 for 4 from two while finishing with eight points, three assists and two turnovers.
In his last three games, Washington has missed all 10 of his attempts inside the three-point arc. He is 5 for 20 (25.0%) from three and 5 for 30 (16.7%) overall.
“Duane’s obviously going through a spell of inefficiency, but everybody understands how good of a shooter he is and how he can take over a game,” Holtmann said.
That second half
The Buckeyes led by 12 at the half, never let Michigan State get closer than within three possessions for the remainder and grew the lead as high as 20 points at one point.
And yet, there were moments where the Spartans threatened to sort of make it interesting. After committing just one turnover during the first half, the Buckeyes had eight during the second half that Michigan State turned into five points. Ohio State also committed 15 fouls after only nine in the first half as Michigan State wound up attempting 31 free throws (two more than Ohio State) in a 17-point Buckeyes win.
It was kind of a weird stat line befitting of a half in which Ohio State’s lead was never in serious jeopardy.
“I just think we have to be better,” Holtmann said of the second half. “We had some sloppy possessions. We’ve got to be better in those moments. It’s not easy, or else everybody could do it. Sometimes you’re going to play and teams are going to make a run on you because they’re good. Give them credit for that, but I did think a couple of the possessions were self-inflicted.
“A Tom Izzo team, they’re not going to fold. They’re not going to quit. They’re going to fight until the very end. We expected that, but there are certain things we have to clean up.”
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Walker said the Spartans picked up their pressure a little bit.
“We just weren’t making the right reads at that time,” he said. “We’ve got to get better in the second half down the stretch, making better plays, being stronger with the ball. I know I had a turnover. Credit to them making that run they had.”
In last Wednesday’s 83-79 win against Penn State, the Buckeyes were whistled for 20 fouls as both Young and Walker fouled out. In this game, the total was 24, and both Justin Ahrens and Young finished with four.
“I will say this: the game, I don’t know to explain this, both crews the last two games have been really good crews but the game has been called differently,” Holtmann said. “It’s been called tighter. Is that some edict from the top down, that the game needs to be called a littler tighter? I don’t know, but we haven’t adjusted well and I’ve not gotten that message through to our guys enough.”
By the numbers
*Ohio State had lost four straight games as a ranked team against Michigan State.
*The Buckeyes had lost their last four games against Michigan State by an average of 11.3 points per game.
*Ohio State had lost its last four games against a lower-ranked Michigan State team. Its last such win came February 15, 2011, when No. 2 Ohio State beat unranked Michigan State 71-61 at Value City Arena.
*The last time Michigan State was unranked when playing Ohio State came on February 14, 2017. The Spartans won that one at home, 74-66, in what would be the last time Thad Matta would coach against the Spartans.
*Ohio State had been 3-7 in its last 10 games as a ranked team against Michigan State.
*Michigan State coach Tom Izzo now has multiple three-game losing streaks in Big Ten play for the first time in his tenure. Izzo joined the league for the 1995-96 season.
*This was the third-best defensive efficiency performance for the Buckeyes this season, trailing only blowout wins against Morehead State and Nebraska.
“What I’ve said about this group from day one, and I don’t think I’ve come off this, is I love their maturity. We’ve got a nice blend of younger and old guys. We’ve got talented players, but I love this group. We’ve loved this group as a coaching staff. I think their maturity’s good and I feel really good about coaching this group. That gives me optimism we can get better.” - Holtmann