First Thoughts From a 68-64 Loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament Championship Game
By Tony Gerdeman
Now that's what a meaningless tournament championship game is supposed to look like. Two good teams playing like their lives are on the line with each basket.
In the end, however, the Spartans simply made more plays than the Buckeyes. In fact, it's pretty surprising that Ohio State was able to almost steal this game from Michigan State.
Jared Sullinger played just ten minutes in the first half, Deshaun Thomas went 2-8 from the field in that span, and the Buckeyes managed just one assist in the first twenty minutes of the game.
Ohio State shot just 4-17 from three-point range while the Spartans went 9-21. If it wasn't for the Buckeyes offensive rebounding and 15 second-chance points, this game probably ends up a blowout.
Instead, somehow the Buckeyes lost each half by just one basket. Yes, they came up short, but they never quit. This is the type of loss that shouldn't slow Ohio State's momentum from the weekend.
In fact, maybe it will keep them grounded and remind them how tough times can get when the team isn't the focus of the game. The Buckeyes finished with just six assists, and only two players—Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas—were responsible for them.
That's not team basketball. That's not even AAU basketball.
But at least they've gotten a very good look at what they shouldn't do, and they still almost defeated a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament.
This is not something new for me, but I am not a fan of the "Get the ball to Sullinger and let him force it up" offense.
I understand that he was frustrated with only playing ten minutes in the first half, but that doesn't mean he needs to fit 30 minutes of playing time into the second half.
He shot 6-16 from the field in the second half, and many of those shots were simply forced. Not only were they forced, but they were taken from tough spots.
Late in the game he was forcing shots from the baseline that left no room for error, which is a terrible decision considering there was plenty of error to go around.
I'm not trying to pin this loss on Sullinger, nor am I saying that he shouldn't shoot 16 times in one half. Instead, I'd simply like to see him take better shots. I think it would improve the team overall, and it would also improve their morale, because it tends to sink when Sullinger gets frustrated offensively.
When either Sullinger or Deshaun Thomas are struggling offensively, the Buckeyes cannot afford to have William Buford struggling as well.
Thad Matta doesn't need to primarily rely on Buford, but he should certainly be able to expect him to pick up some slack when Ohio State's two main scorers are struggling.
Instead, it was the short end of all or nothing again for Buford. He scored eleven points on 4-12 shooting, and his 0-4 from three-point range hurt the most.
Aaron Craft knows that Ohio State needs him to score when other players are struggling, so it's not like the Buckeyes need 26 points from Buford at a moment's notice. They just need him to not miss twice as many shots as he makes.
Michigan State beat Ohio State down the court a number of times, which is pretty amazing considering how tired their legs must have been from playing three days in a row.
See what I did there?
Some might want to cite Ohio State's tired legs as the reason for MSU's fastbreak success, but let's not forget that both teams have been playing since Friday. I get tired of people using players being tired as an excuse for getting beaten here or there. Everybody is tired, but some just handle it better.
The Spartans only scored three more fastbreak points than the Buckeyes, but they also blew a couple of opportunities. Had Ohio State actually gotten back down on defense just two more times than they did, we might have a different outcome in this game.
What was the deal with the lack of closeouts on Michigan State's three-point attempts. The Spartans got open looks all game long and the Buckeyes seemingly had no answer for it.
They chased the ball down into the paint, then watched it get kicked out—which was never a surprise—and just couldn't get to the shooter in time to force even a hint of hesitation.
Michigan State shot 43% from three-point territory. If they miss just two more shots and shoot 33%, they lose.
Not to keep this thing constantly negative, but Lenzelle Smith had a terrible time finding Brandon Wood all day long.
Wood scored 21 points and hit 4-8 three-point attempts. Smith was running all over the place, but he wasn't always running in the right places.
If this was an episode of "Finding Bigfoot" and Wood was a sasquatch, I'm not even sure if the Buckeyes would have heard as much as a single Wood knock, so to speak.
While the Spartans went 2-1 against the Buckeyes this year, let's not forget that Big Ten Player of the Year Draymond Green shot 15-49 (31%) from the field with Deshaun Thomas being his primary defender.
Thomas has taken grief for his defense this year, including from the guy who writes the 'First Thoughts' thing, but that's a number for him to be very proud of.
Thomas, Sullinger and Buford combined to shoot 15-43 from the field, and the Buckeyes only lost by four points. I wonder if Michigan State realizes how fortunate they are.
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