First Thoughts From Ohio State's 72-68 Loss at Michigan State
By Tony Gerdeman
The Buckeyes (15-1, 2-1) suffered their first loss of the season, but if a loss was ever acceptable, this might have been the one. With the Spartans (14-1, 3-0) up by 17 points in the second half, the Buckeyes went on a total tear, appearing to be a completely different team than the one that had found itself in this predicament to begin with.
This was not a moral victory, this was merely a very high-quality loss on the road in the Big Ten, and yet it's probably a game that the Buckeyes should have won. After all, you can't expect the Spartans to shoot 11-19 (57.9%) from three-point range every night, even though about half of those were completely wide open.
That being said, I doubt Thad Matta is kicking himself. I'm guessing he's thrilled at the comeback. He looked excited to get to overtime. It seemed as though he was already considering this a win, regardless of the eventual outcome. The Big Ten on the road is where hopes go to die, and Ohio State's hopes were taking their last few breaths before catching their second wind and running the Spartans ragged.
Ultimately, Michigan State got the win, but they got it in part because there was no foul called on Shannon Scott's layup attempt at the end of regulation. That won't be the lasting image of this game, however, as the Buckeyes will take with them the effort and the grit that got them to overtime, and not the one bad call that sent them there.
Payneful Competition. I always expect the Buckeyes to struggle with Adreian Payne, and tonight was no different. When he didn't get the start due to injury, I thought the Buckeyes had caught a significant break. That break, however, didn't last long. Payne was solid in the first half, and made Amir Williams appear disinterested. It was not his finest hour.
But I have to give credit to Williams for responding in the second half, and ramping up his effort level considerably. He scored eight points and grabbed 11 rebounds, and certainly wasn't a liability when the game was on the line. Despite that, the Buckeyes still had no answer for Payne, who scored 18 points and hit a devastating three-pointer in overtime. He is too good to stop when he's interested in playing, and he was certainly intrigued tonight.
Living With Loving. Marc Loving actually played more minutes tonight (23) than LaQuinton Ross (22), and it wasn't necessarily because he was shooting better. After all, Ross finished 1-7 from the field and Loving finished 2-8, but Michigan State is just a bad matchup for Ross.
For one, Ross isn't able to score against Branden Dawson, who is a terrific athlete. He wasn't able to take him one on one, and he wasn't able to take him in the post. His only hope in this game was catching and shooting, and that wasn't working either. Loving, on the other hand, had a little better success driving.
The interesting part for me, however, is that it was Loving in the game during Ohio State's run and overtime, and not Ross. It was a huge spot for the freshman to be in, and for the most part he handled that pressure. On the game's final shot, however, he forced up a shot that he felt needed to be taken. While it was a poor shot attempt, it was good to see that he had no fear in taking it.
Granted, the one thing that Loving hasn't shown this year is fear. He will drive it, he'll shoot it, he'll do whatever he feels like, because he's confident in his abilities. He was put in a big situation in this game, and he failed. But it's January – failing is okay, and it will lead to better things down the road. Loving scored 10 points in this game and was the only player other than Sam Thompson to score in double figures.
Honestly, it doesn't matter if he's a freshman because he's as smart as an upperclassman. The game's final moment, however, was probably too big for him tonight. But it certainly says something about Thad Matta's confidence level in Loving to have him in the game for the pick and pop at the end.
Putting It All Together. Sam Thompson had his entire game on display for the first time all season, and it was a pleasure to witness. Granted, it probably wasn't all that fun for Lenzelle Smith, who had to watch most of it from the bench. This was the game that people have been clamoring for all season from Thompson, who finished with a team-high 18 points on 7-10 shooting with eight rebounds. He was active on all ends, and was supremely instrumental in the comeback.
While it was great to see the potential on display, it can't become a once-a-season thing for Thompson. He needs to build on this outing and continue to find ways to put the ball in the basket. He can impact a game in too many ways for him to be a player that can fall silent for weeks at a time.
Quick Thoughts. … My confidence in Thad Matta to change things up in the second half after a bad first half is at about an 11, and even though it took a while for things to get to where he wanted them to be, they still got there. For as disinterested as this team was looking for 30-odd minutes, they were locked in for the final 10 or so and it was impressive to see. That will be the lesson from this game. … If you were to take the tape of this game and the tape of Ohio State's season opener and play them on a split screen, they would appear to be different sports entirely. For all of the focus on calling the game “properly” in the beginning of the season, there was an awful lot of physicality that went unwhistled in this one. But that's life in the Big Ten. … Shannon Scott's role in the comeback shouldn't go unmentioned because his hands were in every dish over the final stretch. He is a fire starter for sure, and he nearly burned the Breslin Center down – and he would have had the foul at the end of regulation been correctly called. … Scott and Aaron Craft combined for 10 turnovers, which is just a ridiculous number for those two. It was a sloppy first half for Craft, but he could have 35 terrible minutes and you still know he's going to be just fine down the stretch. He played all 45 minutes in this game. He didn't land on SportsCenter's box score graphic because he only scored nine points, but there was no Buckeye more instrumental in this team's performance. … For as much as we talk about the excellent defense that this team plays, it was the multitude of open threes that won the game for the Spartans.
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