Michigan State had lost four straight road games coming into this game, last winning at Wisconsin on January 10. A trip down to Columbus to take on the team currently sitting in 13th place in the Big Ten would certainly be the antidote the Spartans needed, right?
Game Flow Highlights:
In this season’s typical style, the game got off to a rather unimpressive start, though it was both sides that came out stale. In the opening portion of the game, MSU would go 0-4 on 3 pointers. OSU would see some success in this part of their game, sinking 2 from deep, but they also had 4 turnovers, including on 3 of their first 5 possessions. Jaxon Kohler would end up scoring MSU’s first basket after the customary early substitution for Mady Sissoko. Two possessions later, when he got it down low again, he tried to pass it out while being double-teamed, but he ended up throwing it away. The Buckeyes could not take advantage, but after the Spartans collected the rebound, AJ Hoggard got called for an offensive foul, mercifully taking the game to a commercial, with MSU down 4-6.
In the second segment, the troubles seemed to switch sides, with OSU now seemingly incapable of sinking a 3 while MSU repeatedly coughing the ball up. After 2 ½ minutes without either team scoring, Jaden Akins tied the game up with a pretty drive to the basket. Joey Hauser would sink a triple on the next trip, and MSU had the lead 9-6 at the second commercial.
There would be another lull in the scoring that lasted a couple minutes, and then MSU went on a quick run right after the Buckeyes notched it at 9. Hauser hit his 2nd triple, Walker nailed a pullup J, and then Kohler would add two scores in the post on back-to-back trips. The only negative of this run was Hoggard picking up foul number two. For those of you who have been paying attention this year, you knew he would be done until the 2nd half. For now, MSU had opened up a 7-point lead, 18-11.
The rims at Value City Arena may have forgotten who their home team was, as they were not allowing the Buckeyes to convert any of their open shots. For MSU, on the other hand, Carson Cooper got on the score sheet after catching a nice feed from Hauser as he was cutting down the lane, and Akins got another layup off his dribble. At the under-4, MSU had doubled up the home team, 22-11.
In the last stretch before the break, the rims further proved unkind to the hosts, with the Buckeyes now incapable of even converting layups. Joey would sink his third 3. Walker fed the ball down low to Mady, and after several seconds of bobbling it while mostly uncontested, the big man finally got control of the ball and dunked it. At last, after over 7 scoreless minutes, Roddy Gayle hit a 3 for OSU. Akins would try to respond with a ¾ court heave, but his prayer bounced off the rim, and MSU would walk into the locker rooms with a 27-14 lead. The good news was that Joey seemed to be hitting his shots, Walker and Akins were playing aggressive, and the ball movement was there, with MSU getting assists on 8 of their 12 baskets. The main negatives of the first half were that MSU did not get a single FT attempt, taking a category they have struggled in of late to a new low.
The second half started with a bit of promise. After sitting for the last 9+ minutes of the 1st, Hoggard came out and hit a jumper just 19 seconds into the 2nd. However, from here, OSU decided they were not going to be pushed around any longer on their home court. They noticeably picked up the pace, were forcing it inside, and had some success breaking down MSU’s interior defense. They had chipped the lead down to 8 and had a chance to make it 6, but a couple consecutive turnovers by their star, Bryce Sensabaugh, sandwiched around a Hoggard layup had MSU up by 10, 33-23 at the under-16 timeout.
From here, the game became a 3-point shooting contest briefly, as 6 consecutive shots were from behind the arc. In less than 8 minutes of the 2nd half, OSU had already put up more points than they did before the break. After forcing Kohler into another turnover while trying to pass out of a double team, Sensabaugh drilled a jumper, and the MSU lead was 38-31 at the whistle.
Back from timeout, Pierre Brooks continued to struggle with his shot, missing his third of the day and second from deep, but his release did look good on all of them so just a bit of bad luck maybe. OSU brought it up and Sensabaugh scored again to trim it to a 5-point game. Tyson Walker tried to stop the bleeding, but had his pocket picked by Bruce Thornton. Regressing to their first half form, however, OSU promptly missed 2 layups, and MSU took advantage of the gift by getting triple # 4 from Joey. OSU quickly got 2 back, but then MSU went on a 10-0 run, all ten being scored by the Spartan backcourt. With just under 6 minutes to go, it was 51-35 MSU, and based on the Buckeyes’ offensive struggles, it was essentially garbage time.
From here, MSU would wrap up their scoring with a Walker layup, a Cooper &1, and two more deep ones from Joey. OSU would put in a few meaningless baskets. With a little under two minutes, the legacy benchwarmers came in. It was a chance for the progeny of Tom Izzo, Steve Smith, Barry Sanders, and Anderson Cooper (couldn’t think of another famous Cooper, but please make suggestions in the comments), along with famous-father-lacking Jason Whitens to get a basket. Davis Smith took the first try, a late-shot-clock triple heave that had no chance. But Whitens grabbed an offensive rebound. After bringing the ball back up top, Steven Izzo took the ball from the top of the key, dribbled down toward the baseline, then turned on the jets and drove toward the basket. It appeared like he had beaten his defender and he went up for a reverse layup. The shot got blocked, but I will say this was by far the most confident move I have ever seen from Lil’ Izzo. Here’s hoping for a few more of these before the end of the season. He’s going to get one, I just know it. Anyway, like the first half, OSU hit a shot with 5 seconds left, and the final score was 62-41.
Listen, we all knew this was a must-win game, and I am quite sure most of you felt we would get the W today. And there were certainly some positives from this game. That said, there were the familiar collective periods of lapses in focus, taking the foot off the gas, and allowing an inferior team to hang around with us. Against a team who gives up 68 a game, MSU could only get 62. The 21-point win was MSU’s second largest margin of victory this season, trailing only the 23-point Oakland game, but it feels like it could have been an even bigger win. A number of things factored into that not happening.
3 Things I Liked:
1. Low post defense. From the opening possession, MSU did look locked in on defense, with Spartan defenders staying glued to their assignments, especially in the paint. Hoggard was bodying up Sensabaugh; Sissoko kept Zed Key from getting past him with the ball. The intensity was evident out of the gate. These aren’t the two that anyone thinks of as MSU’s best defenders, but they showed up with it today. Later, Kohler and Cooper showed improved defensive skills down low.
2. Not fouling. Continuing the conversation on defense, MSU did not get into their usual foul trouble in this one. In neither half did they get into the penalty. In fact, no one was called for more than 3 fouls, Sissoko of course. Hoggard played the entire 2nd half without getting whistled again. Everyone did a good job keeping their hands up on shots, not swiping down unnecessarily, and it resulted in Ohio State only shooting 2 free-throws all game.
3. While I really want to talk more about Steven Izzo’s baseline drive here, I will control myself. Today’s third like goes to getting the freshmen centers involved. Kohler and Cooper combined for 11 points on 5 of 5 shooting. Cooper’s two FGs were both bunnies at the hole. Kohler showed a little more offensive capability, even sinking a turnaround jumper in the middle of the paint. Sure, the two of them only played 19 total minutes, but you could tell that when they were in, their teammates were looking to get them the ball. For some reason (well, actually I know why but we won’t go into it here), the same can not be said for the starter, Mady, who went 1 for 3 today for 2 points.
3 Things I Did Not Like:
1. Struggling from 3. A few weeks ago I started doing this 5 Questions article with a writer from the opposing team’s SB Nation page. The OSU writer was the first one to come back at me with five questions of his own. One of his questions was “What is the biggest thing OSU needs to do to beat MSU?”, and my answer was prevent MSU from launching three-pointers. Well, I wouldn’t call giving up 22 attempts preventing it, so maybe Coach Holtmann doesn’t read LandGrantHolyLand.com. But even though the overwhelming majority of our triples were of the wide open variety, those shots were not falling for us. Overall, we were 7 for 22, not even 33%. And once you take out Joey’s red-hot 6-9, the rest of the squad only made 1 of 13. Malik Hall made his only triple try (in a game where he missed his other 4 FGs). Jaden Akins went 0-6. Walker and Hoggard missed another 3 combined. And Brooks still can’t find his touch, missing a pair. I want to touch on Akins’ shot a moment; this guy needs a shooting coach. While he ordinarily is way better than he was today, I do believe his unorthodox shooting stance where he is turning his right shoulder back maybe 60 degrees from the basket is keeping him from being an even better 3-point shooter than he already is. I’d like to see him taking his shots a little more square to the basket.
2. One FT attempt. I am not sure I need to elaborate on this. Figure out how to draw more fouls.
3. Minute distribution. We all knew Hoggard was out for the remainder of the first half once he picked up his 2nd foul, which meant Walker would be on the floor for the entire final 9 minutes of the half. In the end, Walker played 34, only to be outdone by Hauser’s 35. I think this is too much for both of these guys. As many of you have argued for in the comments sections, Izzo needs to trust certain players even with a 2nd foul before halftime. Today, Hoggard proved that, playing the second half with no more fouls. He could have had 2 or 3 more minutes in the first, giving Walker more rests. As for Joey, sure he was in video game mode today with his triples, but he too should be getting a few more minutes of rest, probably playing closer to 31 or 32 minutes. That may mean letting Hall spell him more, or Izzo throwing out some cameo appearances of the two-center lineup. For a team lacking in depth, I don’t want to see any of our best players getting fatigued as the season winds down and the games become more important.
Minnesota comes to the Breslin Wednesday night.