Ohio State loses lead, falls down stretch in stunner at Michigan State

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State guard Duane Washington Jr. shoots as Michigan State Spartans guard Rocket Watts and forward Gabe Brown defend during the first half at Breslin Center, Feb. 25, 2021.

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Add another chapter to the lore that is Ohio State’s litany of woes at the Breslin Center.

For nearly 30 minutes, the No. 4 Buckeyes mostly held Michigan State at bay. For the next seven, they clung to their lead. And for the final three, they were out-physicaled, out-toughed and outscored as the Spartans (13-9, 7-9 Big Ten) threw a few late haymakers in a 71-67 win against No. 4 Ohio State (18-6, 12-6).

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By the end, coach Chris Holtmann wasn’t around to see it. He was given his second technical foul of the game with one second remaining.

“I’m not going to talk specifically about the officiating,” he said. “Give them credit. They played more physical, played with more force. It’s my fault on the technicals.”

The first one inspired a run by his players. The second came when the game was already decided.

Seeking their first series sweep of Michigan State since the 2006-07 season, the Buckeyes had weathered an early push from the resurgent Spartans but were clinging to a two-point lead moments into the second half when E.J. Liddell missed a shot from close-range through a barrage of contact. No call was made, but the whistle was blown as the play headed up the court.

It was on Holtmann, who was given a technical foul as he unloaded on the referees for the no-call. Joshua Langford went to the other end, hit both free throws and the game was tied at 40 with 16:45 to play.

“In that moment honestly I just thought that plays that were normally called fouls in most of every Big Ten game were not being called fouls,” Holtmann said. “I thought that was an obvious one and expressed that. Certainly you want to fight for your guys. E.J.’s a good player. He also has to own the fact that he needs to play with more force if this is how the game’s going to be called. Obviously we didn’t prepare him quite well enough for this.

“We’re always going to fight for our guys … I thought EJ deserved the call.”

Ohio State's head coach Chris Holtmann argues a call during the first half in the game against Michigan State on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

After the technical, the Buckeyes got a stop, scored on a Washington Jr. drive and started a 9-0 run that seemingly had provided the necessary breathing room. But from there, the Spartans would chip away and eventually reclaim the lead at 64-63 on a pair of free throws from Malik Hall with 2:32 remaining. It was the first time the Buckeyes had trailed since the Spartans led 15-13 in the opening minutes of the game.

Hall’s free throws came 33 seconds after Aaron Henry hit a pair to cut into the 63-60 Ohio State lead. Those also started what would be an 11-4 run by the Spartans to close the game.

“They played tougher than us at the end of the game,” Ohio State senior guard CJ Walker said.

The Buckeyes were playing without senior forward Kyle Young, who suffered a concussion in the closing minutes of Sunday’s 92-87 loss to No. 3 Michigan at Value City Arena. Fourth-year junior Musa Jallow replaced him in the starting lineup and played 32 minutes without attempting a shot, finishing with five rebounds, two assists, one turnover and four fouls while primarily guarding Henry. The Michigan State junior finished with a team-high 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting.

In spite of Young’s absence and the late collapse, Ohio State had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds but Duane Washington Jr.’s driving layup from the right wing didn’t fall with four seconds to play. After the Buckeyes fouled with 1.4 seconds remaining, Holtmann earned his second technical foul and Joshua Langford hit one of two free throws to set the final score.

“I wouldn’t say things weren’t being called our way,” Walker said. “I couldn’t say the foul calls weren’t even. We just didn’t finish through contact. It’s a physical league. There’s nothing you can expect going through the basket.”

Ohio State has now lost two straight after a five-point home loss to Michigan on Sunday. Michigan State has won three straight to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Liddell finished with 18 points on 4-for-13 shooting by going 10 for 12 from the free-throw line. Washington had 17 on 7-for-16 shooting but was only 1 for 7 from three and appeared to roll his ankle during the final minutes, although both Walker and Holtmann said he was fine.

Despite a sluggish pace furthered by a barrage of foul calls, several of them questionable at both ends, the Buckeyes traded blows early, settled in as the midpoint of the first half approached and took an 18-15 lead when Walker buried a three-pointer with 11:58 left in the half.

Michigan State would tie it at 24 and again at 27, but the Buckeyes would lead for the remainder of the half and scratch out a six-point lead that could’ve been more. Ahead 35-29 after scoring on five straight possessions, the Buckeyes would miss four of their final five shots and commit three turnovers during the final 4:07 of the half. One of the turnovers, though, came when Washington Jr. banked in a three-pointer as the shot clock expired that was waived off after a video review.

Asked what the officials told him about that call, Holtmann shook his head, looked down and said, “Um, yeah, the explanation was that it was close. I understand your question and appreciate it and wish I could say more, but would’ve been an important three points.”

That shot clock violation was the first of three turnovers on four possessions for the Buckeyes, but they would take a 38-33 lead into the break after a Zed Key hook shot and then a Justice Sueing free throw with 23.3 seconds left to set the score.

The Buckeyes held that lead despite only five points on 1-of-6 shooting from Liddell. After committing nine turnovers in the first meeting between the teams this season, the Buckeyes had eight at halftime.