Michigan State has now played six games against upper division Big Ten teams. Here are the halftime scorelines from those six games:
Despite playing four of the six games at home, MSU has also trailed at the half in four of the games--by 13+ points in three of them. Against teams like Minnesota (8-point deficit on road) and Michigan (1-point deficit), they could overcome a poor start. Against NCAA Tournament-quality teams, they haven't been able to. All four of the halftime deficits shown above have presaged losses.
On offense, it feels like MSU is just playing with too fine a margin for error. This team doesn't have the size to consistently score in the low post, is not a great 3-point shooting team, and only has one player who can consistently get into the lane to score. That means the scoring has to knocking down midrange shots or executing set plays that lead to easy baskets and trips to the free throw line.
When it's all going right, the Lucas/Allen/Summers/Morgan/Green core can do those two things very well. But it often takes too long to get those things going. And, by the time the team finds its rhythm, trying to come back two points at a time against teams with equivalent talent has takes more energy than the team can summon up. Despite having 4 starters play the full 40 minutes today, Thad Matta's team look like the fresher, more composed squad from the point that MSU briefly grabbed the lead with 4 minutes to go onward.
Neither of the two players who have generally been MSU's most consistent offensive performers could get things going in the first half. Kalin Lucas and Draymond Green combined for just 3 points before the half. Give some credit to the other three potential offensive playmakers--the guys who usually can't be counted on to all be on their games at the same time. Durrell Summers, Chris Allen, and Raymar Morgan combined for 36 points in the game on 30 FG attempts; 21 of those points came in the first half. Morgan also battled for 14 rebounds (5 of them on offense).
Overall, it seemed like MSU was thrown off a bit by the fact that Matta decided not to play much zone. Lucas ended up forcing a lot of shots, finishing the game 3-13 from the field (8 assists vs. zero TOs, though). When Ohio State did briefly go zone, Chris Allen hit a long 3-pointer to dissuade them from doing much more of that. Ultimately, MSU just couldn't find enough ways to score straight up against a team with equal/greater athleticism.
In a 70-possession game, MSU's deficiencies were equally split between offense and defense. On defense, the gameplan for guarding Evan Turner worked quite well up until the late stages of the game. Kalin Lucas played off Turner and baited him into taking long jumpshots. Turner eventually found ways to get into the lane for better looks at the basket and some trips to the free throw line, but it took him 17 FG attempts and 12 FT attempts to get his 20 points. (Turner also added 6 assists and 10 rebounds--all on defense.)
The problem was guarding Ohio State's other perimeter players. Ohio State shot 5 for 10 from 3-point range to build their halftime lead. For the game, Jon Diebler, William Buford, and David Lighty combined for 42 points on 31 field goal attempts. The hedging by MSU defenders toward the lane helped contain Turner but cost them on kick-outs for 3-point attempts. (Buford also got a clean look at a three off our patented "have the defender guarding the in-bounds passer turn his back, leaving the passer open for a return pass and open shot" strategy.)
MSU was unable to beat Ohio State on the boards today (Morgan was the only MSU player to grab more than one offensive rebound), and neither team turned the ball over that much. So the game came down to straight scoring ability. Advantage Buckeyes. Ohio State's shooting line was .429/.412/.709 (2pt/3pt/FT). Michigan State's was .438/.333/.556. MSU had the moral victory of fouling Kyle Madsen out, but Ohio State held its own at the line, eventually piling up 24 free throw attempts once the Spartans had to result to fouling intentionally in the final minute.
I'll end there, except to say that this season sure feels like it's rapidly slipping away.
Up next: A midweek bye, giving Tom Izzo a full week to conjure up a miracle in West Lafayette and reseize the chance to win a share of the conference title. Sunday the 28th at 4:00; CBS.