Mixed Signals: Ohio State 71, Michigan State 61

COLUMBUS OH - FEBRUARY 15: Kalin Lucas #1 of the Michigan State Spartans walks off of the court as Michigan State fell to the Ohio State Buckues 71-61 on February 15 2011 at Value City Arena in Columbus Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

This game probably gets filed under the same general category as the loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium last December: good effort on the road against a superior opponent.  This one hurts a bit more because it was a conference game, and MSU obviously needed this win more than we ever figured they would.

It also hurts because MSU was oh so very close to grabbing the momentum at several points throughout the game, but always seemed to be undone by 1) big shots from Ohio State (forgivable) or 2) turnovers and other bad mistakes (much less so).  The Spartans did an outstanding job containing Jared Sullinger -- who had one of his worst games of the season tonight and yet still picked up 11 points -- but were done in by a virtuoso performance by William Buford, who looks and plays like an NBA regular.  If anything, this game showed how good Ohio State can be and already is: their superstar had an off night and they barely missed a beat.  True, they don't have much depth, but when each player in your rotation contributes so much, is a 9-man rotation really a necessity?

Anyway, the four factors clearly show the dichotomous nature of the game:

 

The graph looks much more like what we've grown accustomed to over the past few seasons than what we've seen lately from this team.  For the second consecutive game, MSU shot the ball extremely well; 59.6% eFG against the #2 team in the country is excellent.  Similarly, the rebounding figure is encouraging, as it was accomplished against a team featuring two of the best rebounders in the conference (Sullinger and Dallas Lauderdale) and without much of a contribution from Delvon RoeKeith Appling was particularly creditable in this regard: his 2 offensive rebounds and 4 defensive rebounds represented an outstanding contribution on a night when MSU truly needed it.

Ah, yes, but the other two bars.  The turnover rate was MSU's worst of the season -- even worse than the turnover-fest at Duke.  It was particularly bad midway through the second half when Kalin Lucas seemed to tire and MSU didn't really have anyone that could spell him for a minute or two.  Draymond Green also turned the ball over several times while attempting the perfect pass instead of completing the merely good.  No one player was particularly awful, but add up several mediocre performances and you get a major team problem.  Turnovers really haven't been MSU's downfall this season, but they were last night.

And yes, that free throw rate.  Normally we don't spend much time criticizing officials, but when Tom Izzo comments about Ohio State getting to the free throw line "every fricking time," and MSU shot only 6 free throws all night, we probably need to comment.  Yes, a 29-6 free throw disparity is absolutely absurd, particularly when MSU took nearly all its shots from inside the paint or in the near vicinity (MSU shot only 5 three-pointers all game), and all but 4 of OSU's 29 attempts were obtained in normal game play.   (We exclude the one garbage time foul and the free throws on Green's techincal foul.)  We knew that OSU has a reputation as a team that doesn't foul much, but you have to wonder if that reputation became a self-fulfilling prophecy last night.  Also, this isn't necessarily related to the foul discrepancy, but while watching the broadcast last night it was impossible not to think that the Jim Burr was totally hamming it up for the camera.  This is not a good thing, and Green's technical foul (deserved or not) wasn't surprising given that context.  Please no more mike-ing of officials, ESPN.

Anyway.  Player bullets after the jump.

  • One of the recurring annoyances of the season has been hearing announcers say, "Kalin Lucas is back!" immediately after a good play, when his body of work suggests that he isn't back.  Well, for me, the statement rang true for the first time this evening.  The statistics (and needless to say, at TOC we're big believers in statistics) show that Lucas had merely an above-average game tonight: 14 points on 7-of-15 shooting, 5 assists, 3 turnovers.  But, while watching the game I kept on thinking, "he's back!"  Lucas hit jump shots, yes, but he also showed an ability and willingness to take the ball to the rack that we just haven't seen this year.  It wasn't an overwhelming performance, but it was much more of the vintage Lucas than we've seen at any other time this season.  (And most of it came while being defended by Aaron Craft, who did a tremendous job of denying Lucas the ball and forcing him to take off-balance shots.)  Clearly an effort to build on.
  • It was an up-and-down night for Keith Appling, who got the start.  He scored on two truly beautiful fast breaks, and did a very nice job grabbing rebounds from his guard position -- 6 tonight.  On the bad side: while he's been able to contain some of the conference's best guards this season, that obviously wasn't the case tonight with his efforts against William Buford.  Appling had a difficult time getting around screens, and generally had a tough game on the defensive end of the court.  Not that he's the first -- nor will he be the last -- to have a difficult time against this Ohio State backcourt.
  • Draymond Green fouled out after picking up several fouls in succession, including a frustration technical, at the end of the game.  His performance before that point was generally good, though his attempts to make the perfect interior pass led to four turnovers.  (In fairness, it also led to a few easy layups, including one particularly pretty set-up for Garrick Sherman.)  He also struggled to get the ball in good shooting positions, The heaved 3-pointer was nice (though another 3 attempt, when MSU had numbers on the offensive end, was quite ill-advised) and he was a big reason why MSU was able to outpace OSU on the boards, but you can't imagine that Day-Day is going to look back on this game with fondness.
  • Garrick Sherman gave MSU 17 solid minutes tonight: 3-for-3 from the field, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, and wasn't visibly abused on the defensive end of the floor.  The two turnovers aren't ideal, but Garrick's performance has to be considered a positive development.
  • Durrell Summers has taken, and will take, plenty of criticism elsewhere for his showing tonight.  It hardly seems fair to pile on, so we'll refrain from doing so.  Two fouls took him out of the game tonight before he could even get started.  Here's hoping for a better game on Saturday.
  • Derrick Nix was a revelation in the first half, but barely saw the floor in the second half after picking up his third foul.  I think it's legitimate to wonder why Nix and Adreian Payne weren't given more minutes in the second half, when they, as much as anyone else, were responsible for MSU's fine first half showing.  Nix played excellent defense on Jared Sullinger, made the best offensive play we've seen him make in a MSU uniform, and hit the one free throw he attempted.  Nix has quietly been improving throughout this season; if he plays this well in the remaining 5 games, MSU is an NCAA Tournament team.
  • Payne was similarly excellent in the first half; it was clear that he was fired up to play against his home-state team.  He contributed 10 points in 11 minutes, played well on defense, and it looked like this was set to be his breakout game . . . and then, like Nix, he barely played in the second half.  I understand that MSU was getting killed by Buford, Lighty, and (to a lesser extent at the time) Diebler, but it was disappointing that Izzo seemed to go away from the two players who seemed to be having the most success.  This is particularly true with Payne, because he finished with only two fouls.
  • We probably saw Mike Kebler's ceiling tonight.  He had 8 points (surely his career high) on 4-6 shooting.  Two of those baskets were particularly memorable: a sweet jumper from the baseline and a tremendous rebound/putback of a teammate's miss.  He committed only one turnover, grabbed four boards, and to be honest, played well above the level we had come to expect from Korie Lucious.
  • Austin Thornton wasn't nearly as good; his 19 minutes were punctuated by a couple of poor turnovers and one "if only" moment: a missed open jumper from the baseline that could have given MSU the lead at halftime.  Not a ton to complain about but not much to write home about, either.
  • Delvon Roe bravely gave MSU 8 minutes tonight; he grabbed 2 rebounds during those minutes, but he clearly wasn't himself.  (After the game, Izzo said that Roe's pain level was 15 on a scale from 1 to 10.)  Good on him for giving it a go; hopefully he'll be in better shape on Saturday.

And, about Saturday: SB Nation's latest bracketology report has MSU as the very last team in the tournament (and placed in a delicious first-round opener against Butler, to boot), so Saturday's game against Illinois seems like a must-win in order for MSU's tournament hopes to stay alive.  Tom Izzo says that the team "ain't dead yet," and we'll know quite a bit more about the accuracy of that statement in a few days.  Prepare for much anxiety until Selection Sunday.

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