First Thoughts From an Improbable 72-70 Win at Michigan State
By Tony Gerdeman
It's hard to write something called "First Thoughts" when you can barely collect them to begin with.
With their performances over the last few weeks, the Buckeyes really had no business being in this game, let alone winning it. When they played like they did in the first half, it wasn't any surprise at all.
Even when they came back to cut it to a couple of possessions, I had never completely bought in. I still expected a double-digit loss. It was just what I had been conditioned to expect.
But once they finally tied the game and traded basket for basket, it was clear that I wasn't watching the same team that I had seen of late. This was a different team. This was the team that we had seen earlier in the year. This was the team that people have been wanting to see for a month or more.
And clearly, this was not the team that Michigan State was expecting to encounter. I'm pretty sure they thought they threw a knockout punch when they had a 15-point lead midway through the first half.
I no longer have any idea what to expect from this team, unless I decide to expect the opposite from now on.
What I do know, however, is that this game could not have happened at a better time. Ohio State gets their confidence back in their final regular season game, and they win a Big Ten Championship to boot.
Not a bad Sunday for a team that many, me included, had written off.
William Buford has taken his fair share of grief this season, but when his team needed him most, he put everything behind him and produced like the best player on the court.
His game-winner was his only made shot in the final eight minutes of the game, but he had no hesitation when his number was called.
He finished the second half 7-10 from the field, which included all manner of clutch shots. He scored 25 points, and was the William Buford that enables the Buckeyes to beat anybody they play.
Without Evan Ravenel's tremendous Jared Sullinger impersonation, the Buckeyes don't win this game.
With Sullinger in foul trouble in the second half, Ravenel got some very important minutes, and he did as much with them as anybody could possibly do.
He scored seven points with two rebounds and two assists in eight minutes. However, for about a three-minute stretch he was the focus of the Ohio State offense, and that offense performed admirably.
Then late in the game, tied at 70-70, he was called upon to defend Draymond Green, and he did it very well. Green forced up a bad fadeaway miss, and the Buckeyes came away with the rebound.
Like Buford, Ravenel has taken his share of shots from the fans this year, but everybody got a long look at the reasons why Thad Matta has had so much faith in him.
Aaron Craft played all 40 minutes in this game. He scored nine points, grabbed seven rebounds, handed out six assists, came up with four steals and only turned it over once.
He was also a large reason why Michigan State's Keith Appling was only 4-11 from the field.
I also don't want to forget to mention his bail-out jumper to tie it late.
The Buckeyes could have easily quit in the first half, but Craft would have been hustling and fussing until the final whistle. He led this team today in the way he approached the game. It was a 40-minute battle, and he wasn't going to give up one minute sooner.
And his team followed him every step of the way.
The passing early in the game was terrible, which is why it was almost miraculous that the Buckeyes only turned it over ten times today.
Everything was rushed. Shots were rushed, screens were rushed. Everybody was in a hurry to go absolutely nowhere.
They had three turnovers in the opening minutes, and were stifled by the Spartan defense for much of the first half. They seemed to have no answers.
I don't know how they came back the way they did, other than the fact that they did it minute by minute, and didn't impossibly try to do it all at once.
Perhaps they learned a lesson in patience today. Running is nice, but slow and steady still wins the race.
But I still can't believe they actually did it.
Jared Sullinger's struggles lately have to have him thinking about his readiness for the NBA.
However, most of his troubles are because of his height and athleticism, and neither are going to improve. He can do more with his game, but he won't get to do it playing center in college when he's an NBA power forward.
Thad Matta would probably have to promise him that he can play the four next year, and Amir Williams would play the five next to him, which Matta would do. At least in that case, Williams would be there to rebound on the weak side.
Sullinger will certainly have a decision to make, assuming he hasn't already made it.
Basically, I don't know that he's ready for the NBA, but he's also not going to get any more ready than he already is.
I really can't say enough about the lack of quit in this team tonight, but more important than the lack of quit was the amount of calm.
This was a fantastic game to watch, and the Buckeyes looked like a group that was packed with seniors, instead of a team with just one.
I expected the situation to become too big for them, and they proved me wrong every time. The team that we saw today can absolutely do some damage in the NCAA Tournament, and now the Buckeyes know it too.
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