After MSU's first game against Ohio State, the scouting report was clear: Make anyone but DeShaun Thomas beat you.
In the second game, MSU did a great job of that, and held a nine-point lead in the second half. Then, inexplicaby, MSU decided to pressure Aaron Craft and give him layup after layup en route to a career-high 21 points and an Ohio State win.
In the third game, MSU again didn't let DeShaun Thomas do much (16 points on 19 shots), and they actually sagged off Craft, who had two points at halftime. But Craft, white skin and all, picked things up in the second half, scoring 18 points in the period as the Buckeyes earned a 61-58 win over MSU to advance to the Big Ten Tournament final. (Box score)
This was different than the previous game, where poorly-planned pressure allowed easy layups. This was Craft hitting jumpers, and carving up the MSU defense that was often sagging on him. This was him beating Appling as a result of his offense, not MSU's poor gameplan. It's even hard to put too much blame on Appling. He just hit shots he normall doesn't.
In the end, it was Craft's game, coupled with some terrible MSU inbounding and the inability to grab a defense rebound at the end that was the difference.
The eFG% is pretty even, and both teams played good defense, but Ohio State took seven more FG attempts (57) than MSU did. MSU had one more offensive rebound, but seven more turnovers (12-5). MSU's TO% was about average, but the Bucks did a terrific job holding onto the ball. MSU shot better from 3 (42.9 percent) than two (38.8 percent). That's rare for this team, especially when the two big men play well.
MSU's OR% was solid, but they just gave too many second chances to OSU, including two in the final three minutes. The first didn't result in a bucket, but it allowed OSU to kill some more clock. Then, with OSU up two, the Buckeyes missed a jumper, and Thomas was able to grab the board. He got a nice roll on a bucket with about 30 seconds left, and that was the game.
MSU had cut the deficit to one point with 1:54 to go after a three-point play by Derrick Nix. By the time they got the ball back, they were down four with less than 30 seconds left. That was the result of a flagrant foul on Nix (it was a good call. It was a hard hit, but not a dirty one) and the Thomas rebound.
In fairness to MSU, a number of those early offensive rebounds came as a result of some terrible misses by OSU, but not those last ones.
Now, about that inbounding.
How about taking all the time now devoted to designing out-of-TO plays that don’t work and devoting it to simple plays to inbound the ball?— KJ (@KJatTOC) March 16, 2013
MSU gave up 7 easy points to OSU in inbound situations (plus the bullet dodged on the Payne brainfart). Arguably the difference.— KJ (@KJatTOC) March 16, 2013
The only thing MSU can do on the offensive side of the court is the hail mary. I'm not sure why Craft didn't guard against that every time. There's not much to say. It's terrible. You wonder if MSU ever works on it. The inbounders are terrible at timing, and the players trying to get open don't. It may have cost them this game.
-- Derrick Nix led MSU with 17 points, going 6-for-8 from the floor and 5-for-7 from the free-throw line. He was aggressive and finishing. He also had nine rebounds (three offense), two assists, a steal a block and a turnover. One of his best games of the season. Could have gone without that flagrant foul, but again, it didn't seem malicious, just hard.
-- Keith Appling scored 16 points, but on 17 shots, with two assists and one turnover. He was 4-for-7 from 3, which was great! But 2-for-10 on 2s, which is awful. If he can hit a couple 3s per game, look out. His 2-point shooting was rough, and he did have some ill-advised shots, but MSU is always better when he's aggressive. His driving shots give MSU a better shot at an offensive rebound than a deep jumper from someone. His on-ball defense on Craft was questionable again, but he won't be seeing Craft for a while. *Sigh*
-- Adreian Payne scored 12 on 3-for-5 from the floor and 5-for-5 from the free-throw line. He also had eight rebounds, three assists, a block and two turnovers. Overall solid performance. I can't really think of anything else to say.
-- Gary Harris had one of his worst games of the season. Five points on 1-for-7 shooting, including 0-for-4 on 2s. It looked like he got banged early and hurt the shoulder again, so it's hard to blame him too much. He got beat up in these two games, and you just hope he can heal up enough by next week.
Gary Harris was noticeably agitated in the locker room. Izzo confirmed Harris popped his shoulder out but Harris denied it. We saw it, Gary.— Dillon Davis (@DillonDavis) March 16, 2013
-- Branden Dawson did very little after an encouraging performance against Iowa. Two points on 1-for-5 shooting in 27 minutes with five rebounds, two blocks and two turnovers. Just was not noticeable out there.
-- Denzel Valentine was the only one of the four bench players to score. Six points on 3-for-5 shooting with four rebounds. But he had three turnovers with no assists. Not a great performance, but it was the best one off the bench for MSU. When the Spartans gets minimal from the bench, things won't go well.
-- Travis Trice again didn't score, but he had three assists, one steal, one block and a turnovers. It's good to have him spell Appling, but he can't be putting up gooseggs in the scoring column.
It's weird to see MSU shoot so poorly on 2s, when the two big men play well. MSU's guards went 5-for-20 on 2s, 2-for-15 taking out Valentine. It's good to be aggressive and driving a bit, but you have to finish better than that.
Moving forward, this wasn't a terrible loss. Ohio State is a really good team that has won seven in a row. A few bounces the other way and MSU could have won. In the NCAA Tournament, there's not a huge difference between being a No. 2 and a No. 3, and MSU wasn't getting to a No. 1 after Wisconsin's win. I think it was good for MSU to win at least one in Chicago, so the young players gained some experience of a quick turnaround. I don't think winning would have been a bad thing, but losing in the semis wasn't a bad thing, either.
Next up: The NCAA Tournament, and a break from playing Big Ten teams! Overall, I'm feeling pretty good about this team right now. The big men are playing great, Appling is playing aggressive and the defense is good. If Appling can be a little more efficient and Harris can be healthy enough to score a little more, MSU should have a good run in it. One bad matchup or poor performance can end things, though. MSU's floor is still high, but they need more complete efforts.
No more losses. It's win or go home, now. We'll find out the bracket tomorrow. MSU should safely be a No. 3 seed playing in Auburn Hills for the first weekend. I believe we'll be putting together a bracket contest, so stay tuned for that.
Also, I was fine with the Hyper Elite/Pro Combats for one game. Was meh on two. Three is too many. Takes away the speciality. (Ahem, "the only colors").
Meanwhile, enjoy St. Patrick's Day more than this guy.
The drunkest Michigan State fan I've ever seen is walking around the hotel bar telling every Ohio State fan to F himself. Can't end well.— Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) March 17, 2013