Five Things We Learned from Beating Izzo
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was a big night for Ohio State coach Thad Matta. Not only did his Buckeyes knock off Michigan State in their only meeting of the season, but Matta broke his .500 record against the Spartans.
He is now 7-6 in his career against Tom Izzo, and the Buckeyes are now 25-1 on the season with a 2.5-game lead in the Big Ten race.
We take a look at the five things we learned from Tuesday’s 71-61 win over Michigan State.
1. One loss will not break the season. Thad Matta said he wasn’t exactly sure how his team would respond following their first loss of the season, but he has to be pleased with the results. The Buckeyes were not sharp defensively in the first half Tuesday night, and they allowed Michigan State to shoot 62.5-percent from the floor. They tightened things down in the second half and forced the Spartans into 19 turnovers. Most importantly, they didn’t let the loss at Wisconsin shake their confidence.
Jared Sullinger said their goal was to show that one loss won’t make or break the season, and they did exactly that. It wasn’t the most convincing win of the season, but it was a good, tough win over a Michigan State team that was fighting for its lives.
2. Sullinger is human after all. MSU coach Tom Izzo said he had a plan for slowing down OSU freshman Jared Sullinger and his players executed it perfectly Tuesday night. They put their hands on him, kept him from posting up down low and most importantly, kept him from taking over the game on the boards. He finished with just two rebounds, his lowest total of the entire season.
Sullinger has been frustrated before this season. He has also been in foul trouble before, but somehow he usually finds a way to finish around a double-double. That wasn’t the case Tuesday. He totaled just 11 points to go with his two rebounds.
3. This team can survive an off night from him. It was a good sign for the Buckeyes that they beat a good opponent by 10 points despite an off night from Sullinger. If there were any questions about this team, at least on my end, it was how they would handle themselves in a tight game if Sullinger wasn’t on the floor. That was the case for a good portion of Tuesday’s game, but Ohio State never wilted.
Dallas Lauderdale came in and played very well for a guy who hasn’t been on the floor much as of late. He gave up a few uncharacteristically easy baskets at the defensive end, but scored back-to-back baskets in a crucial stretch and even hit his two free throws in the last minute of the game.
4. Buford is becoming a No. 1 guy. David Lighty and Jon Diebler made big shots for the Buckeyes in this game, but the big reason they were able to survive the foul trouble to Sullinger was the play of William Buford. Like he did at Wisconsin, the junior out of Toledo made big shot after big shot for the Buckeyes against Michigan State. He is playing his best basketball right now, but most importantly he is playing the best basketball of anyone on the team right now.
Sullinger will grab all the headlines and awards, but Buford is the one guy on this team who can create his own shot at any moment. Lighty has the ability to get to the hoop, but Buford is even more consistent with his outside shot. He gives the Buckeyes a legitimate second option to go with Sullinger and as long as he’s playing well, the Buckeyes just need one other guy to step up and make a few plays.
5. This team needed Craft. With the addition of Sullinger to the group that returned from last year, this team had just about everything it need. They could still use more from Deshaun Thomas off the bench, but the more you watch Aaron Craft, the more you realize how important he is to this team. He doesn’t always shoot the ball well (1-fo-7 Tuesday night) but he is always going to bring the hustle.
He reminds me of David Lighty when he was a young kid. That’s not to say Lighty has become lethargic in his old age, but Craft just always seems to be flying all over the court, selling out on every play. People will remember the play he made to race back down the court for the three-point play, but I was just as impressed with the play where he dove for the ball and missed. Craft showed complete disregard for his body going after that ball and probably came away with a few court burns. Then again, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t have a few of those after every game.
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