Joey Brunk dominates, Ohio State shakes off losing streak with romp against Michigan State
The chants started during the first half.
“MVP!” the Ohio State student section yelled. “MVP!”
They grew as the game progressed and morphed like the season has for Ohio State. With the No. 23 Buckeyes trying to shake off their first losing streak of the season, against two of the league’s bottom-feeders no less, the cheering intensified and coalesced around one player.
“Joey!” the crowd screamed. “Joey!”
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Thursday night, a folk hero was born at Value City Arena in arguably Ohio State’s darkest hour of the season. With a decimated frontcourt and reeling from a listless loss to Nebraska only two days prior on this same court, sixth-year graduate center Joey Brunk put up a performance for the ages as the Buckeyes (19-9, 12-7 Big Ten) blasted Michigan State (19-11, 10-9), 80-69.
An offseason graduate transfer from Indiana, Brunk entered the night a seldom-used big man in his lone season with the Buckeyes. But with Kyle Young (illness) and Zed Key (ankle) unavailable, Brunk ascended into the starting lineup and finished with a night for the ages.
What did it feel like?
"Pretty damn good," Brunk said. "Honest answer. It felt good to go out and compete and play in front of that crowd.
After averaging 1.3 points and 0.8 rebounds in Big Ten play this season, Brunk was everywhere in this game. Matched up on the block, he used an array of hook shots to frustrate the Spartans and anchor an offense that had lost its luster in the last two losses.
"He wasn’t even on the scouting report," Michigan State's Gabe Brown said. "We had like two clips of him. In the last five games he played 2-3 minutes and hasn’t scored a point.
Brunk got help from a balanced scoring attack, but by the end every time he touched the ball he drew cheers from the fans. When he threw down a two-handed dunk with two minutes to play, the crowd rose to its feet with the entire lower bowl raising the roof in celebration.
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He finished with 18 points and six rebounds, both season highs. Malaki Branham had 22 points including a powerful left-handed dunk, E.J. Liddell had 19 points and Jamari Wheeler tied a season high with 16.
After trailing for the entire second half against a Nebraska team that entered Tuesday 2-16 in Big Ten play, Ohio State led by double figures for the entire second half against the Spartans.
Ohio State came out hot. Malaki Branham buried a 3-pointer on the first possession of the game and drew an illegal screen call at the other end, E.J. Liddell hit a pair of 3-pointers and a jumper and Spartans coach Tom Izzo burned a timeout with 17:42 left in the half and the Buckeyes out to an 11-0 lead.
It was already a bigger lead than they had posted at any point during their two-game losing streak, and it would continue to grow in the early going. Michigan State got on the board with an A.J. Hoggard drive exactly three minutes in, but Jamari Wheeler answered with a 3-pointer to make it a 16-2 lead.
Wheeler would stay hot from the perimeter, and he got some help. Against the Big Ten’s best 3-point defense, Wheeler would hit another moments later to make the Buckeyes five for their first seven attempts from deep. At the half, he was 4 for 5 from deep after having made four 3-pointers in the previous five games combined. That also tied for his best-shooting 3-point game in his career.
As he was firing from deep, Brunk was making the most of his opportunity down low. Frequently matched up one-on-one on the right block, Brunk scored over both shoulders, spun around Joey Hauser on one possession and had 12 points and five rebounds by halftime after entering the game..
Brunk’s final basket of the half gave the Buckeyes a 43-33 lead that could’ve been more. With Wheeler screaming for the ball in the final seconds, Meechie Johnson walked it upcourt, looked to drive and instead lost the ball on the final possession of the half.
With the loss, Izzo remains tied with Indiana's Bob Knight for the most career wins by a Big Ten coach at 662.