First Thoughts From OSU's 61-58 Win Over Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament
By Tony Gerdeman
People throw the descriptor "hard fought" around like beads at Mardi Gras, so I won't use it here. I will merely say that this game was not "easily surrendered".
Michigan State's largest lead was six points, and Ohio State's largest lead was eight points. Reaching that eight-point lead consistently seemed impossible. Even when the Buckeyes grabbed it, they didn't keep it for very long.
This was a game between two very familiar foes, like best friends who have played pick-up ball together since they were old enough to leave the house without asking.
Over the course of the last two seasons, these two teams have now played six times. MSU won two of three last year, and Ohio State won two of three this year.
Who knows how they'll split the three next year, but you can bet that whoever goes 2-1 will have won a series win that was hard fought, not easily surrendured and extremely, extremely well earned.
Seeing the Unbelievable. What Aaron Craft did in the second half of this game should be legendary. He scored or assisted on 27 of the Buckeyes' 33 points. Not only did he score 18 points and hand out four assists, but he also came away with three steals in the second half as well.
If you read the play-by-play of the second half, all he does is make big play after big play. He scored the Buckeyes' first basket to tie the game, then assisted on a Lenzelle Smith layup to get the lead.
He hit a three-pointer to make it 48-45 Buckeyes, but Michigan State answered right back. That's when Aaron Craft got angry and took it out on the Spartans. He scored six points in a row, building the Buckeyes' largest lead at eight points at the 7:22 mark.
Craft scored 17 points over the first 12:38 of the second half. He was unstoppable, confident, and clutch. This was not the same player who airballed a 12-footer in the first half. This was a guy who looked like a stone-cold 30-point scorer three nights a week.
It may be a while before you see a performance like this, at a time like this, again.
Or it may be on Sunday.
Cold, Cold, Cold, Cold, Hot! Just as he has been for the last month or so, no matter how cold Deshaun Thomas has been for the first 37 minutes, when the time comes to close a team out, he's right there asking for the ball.
He's like Mariano Rivera, but likeable.
With OSU up 58-56, the Buckeyes needed a basket to put themselves up by two possessions. With less than 30 seconds on the clock, it was clear that Thad Matta was going to go with Thomas to get it done, and he did with a jumper to make it 60-56 with 22 seconds remaining.
Prior to that shot he was was 5-18 from the field. He didn't care, and neither did Matta.
In a game in which Thomas missed nearly a dozen open shots, there was still confidence all around to go to him when the team needed breathing room. That doesn't happen with a player who isn't supremely confident, no matter if the shots are falling or not.
Not only was he confident in himself, his teammates and coaches were confident in him as well.
Tresselball Y'all. Aaron Craft pretty much finished up his stupendousness at around the 7:22 mark of the second half. From there on it was full Tresselball.
Ohio State led 55-47 and would only score six more points the rest of the game, but it was enough, as Tresselball tends to be.
The amazing part of that stretch was how the Buckeyes kept the ball away from Michigan State over the final two minutes. It was like watching Carlos Hyde run out the clock last season, which they also did on the Spartans. (Remember the last 4:10 in East Lansing last year?)
When Derrick Nix hit his three-point play to cut Ohio State's lead to one at the 1:54 mark, the Spartans didn't touch the ball again until after Deshaun Thomas's jumper with 22 seconds to play.
The Buckeyes used two offensive rebounds to extend the possession and burn the clock. When Michigan State finally did get the ball back, there was too much damage to fix and not enough time to fix it. It was a great example of hustle by the Buckeyes, and it happened at the exact perfect time.
Guards Guarding Guards. Michigan State's Keith Appling hit some very big three-point shots in this game, and he finished 4-7 from three-point range. From two-point land, however, he was just 2-10.
In fact, MSU's three guards Appling, Gary Harris and Travis Trice combined to shoot 7-27 (26%) from the field against the likes of Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott and Lenzelle Smith.
Michigan State is going to have the advantage in the paint against most teams, as they did against the Buckeyes, but Ohio State is generally going to have the defensive advantage over any backcourt that they face.
In the absence of any dominant big man, guards control postseason tournaments. Right now, Ohio State has some very solid defensive guards. They will be able to slow down a loaded backcourt, though we can't consider this Spartan backcourt "loaded" at this point.
Even though the Ohio State backcourt has yet to have a consistent offensive force, there is generally at least one who is an impact offensively.
Quick Thoughts. Remember yesterday when I said that Sam Thompson was more likely to score two points than 19? I was sort of right, but I should have said "two shots" instead of "two points". That being said, he has now made 13 of his last 19 three-point attempts. ... Even though he didn't score, this was Amir Williams best game in a few weeks. He pulled down seven rebounds, and initiated some tremendously time-wasting offensive rebounds. He also had a block and a steal, and no turnovers or missed shots. ... LaQuinton Ross has now scored 20 points over his last two games and has looked good doing it. He is 7-11 from the field and 5-7 from three-point range. Another 10 points from him on Sunday and I'd say that the Big Ten Tournament Championship is a guarantee. ... This was not Shannon Scott's best offensive game. He finished 0-5 from the field. However, he still had five assists, four rebounds, two steals and only one turnover. ... It was impressive to see the Buckeyes win without being able to go to the small ball lineup. As it was, their regular lineup was almost too small anyway, considering the size of Nix and Adriean Payne. Nix and Payne are not good matchups for the Buckeyes, but the rest of the team stepped up and negated what was a clear advantage for the Spartans. That's what championship teams do -- they don't let one area or position beat them.
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