We've seen the ceiling. Now we've seen the floor.
With 18:11 to play, a jumper from Adreian Payne gave MSU a 36-27 lead at Ohio State.
On the other end, Aaron Craft missed a layup, and the rebound was up in the air. If MSU grabbed it, they'd head down the court with a chance to push the lead to double-digits.
Instead, the ball bounced out to DeShaun Thomas, who made a three-pointer to cut the lead to 30-36. It was Thomas' second field goal in nine attempts. From there, it all changed. Including that bucket, the Buckeyes went on a 24-5 run to grab a 51-41 lead. MSU would fight back to within two points late, but it wasn't enough. Ohio State held on 68-60 thanks to late free throws (Box score). The worst stretch of basketball all season ruined what had been a really good performance.
You just sat there, wondering if the run would stop, if Izzo would take a timeout and take out Keith Appling, if the Spartans would ever get a defensive stop again.
This pretty much summed it up.
Big Ten championship and No. 1 seed hopes are all but gone. Suddenly, a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament is in question. MSU led No. 1 Indiana by four with 1:37 left. Back-to-back crushing losses. If the win over Michigan was the ceiling for this team, the second half against Ohio State is the floor. You'd rather not been seeing such highs and lows with a few weeks left in the season, but that's where we are. Maybe these last two games make up for starting 4-1 in B1G games decided by five points or less.
An opponent had an eFG% of at least 49 percent for the second straight game. Given the Buckeyes were shooting 35 percent from the floor at halftime, it tells you how bad that second half was. MSU's offense wasn't bad overall, but 2-for-11 from three is not good. The turnover numbers were a little high, and Ohio State got 19 points off 14 MSU turnovers, but MSU got 17 points off just nine OSU turnovers.
The offensive rebounding wasn't great, but the Spartans did a more than fine job on the defensive end. If they get that one rebound up nine, though, who knows how the game changes.
In the first meeting between these teams, DeShaun Thomas had half of OSU's points. He had two at halftime, and MSU led by six. He scored 12 in the second half, but it was the other OSU players who were the difference for the Buckeyes.
Another game, another career-high for an opponent. Aaron Craft scored a career-high 21 points on 7-for-12 shooting. All seven were layups. The non-Thomas players had nine field goals combined in the first meeting. Evan Ravenel had seven early, as it looked like he was going to be that career-high player. But he finished with 10 points.
- It all starts with Keith Appling, obviously. A 1-for-6 performance with one assist and three turnovers. This after going 1-for-8 with four turnovers against Indiana. It wouldn't even be as much of a problem if his defense wasn't suddenly becoming a problem. In back-to-back games, Yogi Ferrell and Craft have driven past Appling to the hoop with ease. No, Appling didn't need to be guarding Craft so far away from the hoop, forcing him to drive, but if he wasn't supposed to, Izzo would have told him off. Is it fatigue? MSU hadn't played since Tuesday and there were plenty of backup options. I don't know what it is, but this MSU team can only go so far with a struggling Appling. If MSU gets anything out of Appling on both sides, it could have easily won these last two games. We shouldn't be too hard on him for all he's done this season, but it's a major problem right now.
- On the other side of the spectrum, Adreian Payne turned in one of the best performances of his career: 12 points on 5-for-10 shooting, 15 rebounds (five offensive). Did you read the preview? Did you see me say Payne always plays his best against the Buckeyes? He had 10 rebounds at halftime. He was all over the place and superb. That's about all I can say.
- Gary Harris was MSU's leading scorer with 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting. He also turned in five assists to one turnover in a great offensive performance. Harris has moved to within .2 points per game of Keith Appling for MSU's leading scorer.
- Derrick Nix was MSU's third and final player in double figures with 12 points on 3-for-6 shooting, including 6-for-8 from the free-throw line, with six rebounds. MSU got plenty of inside scoring (34 in the paint). It was the jump-shooting that let them down.
- Branden Dawson had an energetic first half, but he disappeared again in the second half. He finished with eight points, but all game in the first half. He also had just three rebounds. Could he still be feeling the effects from the shot he took in the head against Michigan? I don't know. But he hasn't been the same player since.
- Denzel Valentine was solid again. Seven points on 3-for-6 shooting, three rebounds, two assists and one turnovers.
- Travis Trice got his first real load of work since the second head injury. He was a little wild at times, scoring two points on free throws (0-for-2 shooting), but he brought a lot of energy when he was in. He had two steals, one assist and one turnover and actually played decent defense. I'm sure I wasn't the only one calling for Trice or Valentine to play point guard in that second half when things were unraveling.
So where do we go from here? On break, again. Then to Ann Arbor next Sunday. Heading into this four-game stretch, a split is what you were looking for. Well, they're 0-2. And the upcoming game is probably the most difficult.
MSU will probably fall out of the top 10. No, rankings don't matter, and you may not think seeding matters, but it does. In the matter of a week, MSU has fallen from this season's elite, but they can get right back there with a win at Michigan.
As frustrating as the last two losses have been, MSU could have and probably should have won both. In that sense, it's a good sign.The rest of the team has been performing pretty well. But Appling is having major problems, and as I said above, the ceiling is much, much lower when he struggles. Rest up.