CHICAGO — In a different state on a tournament slate, the result was the same for the Buckeyes against the Spartans.
The sixth-seeded Ohio State men’s basketball team lost to No. 3-seed Michigan State, 76-67, on Friday night at the United Center, just short of a month since the Buckeyes fell to the Spartans during the regular season. The loss knocks OSU out of the Big Ten Tournament and sends Michigan State through to a semifinal matchup against Maryland.
OSU freshman guard D’Angelo Russell said the Spartans are a “great team,” that executed in spots the Buckeyes couldn’t.
“Great group of guys that know how to play, and well coached,” Russell said of Michigan State. “So I give a lot of credit to them, they did what they were supposed to do.”
Despite the immediate disappointment of the loss, Russell added that the Buckeyes have to bounce back with the NCAA Tournament just days away.
“We gotta be prepared the best way we can going into the tournament,” he said. “All the losses that we had throughout the year don’t matter any more. The wins don’t matter any more. It just starts over.”
Spartan junior guard Denzel Valentine, who downed the Buckeyes with a late 3-pointer on Valentine’s Day in East Lansing, Mich., scored 23 points to lead all players. Russell led the Buckeyes with 19 points, but shot just 7-of-16 from the field.
OSU (23-10, 11-7) scored the first two points of the game, but Michigan State (22-10, 12-6) took a three-point lead with 17:11 to play in the first half and never relinquished the advantage.
OSU coach Thad Matta said Michigan State “blitzed” his team out of the gates, and took advantage when the Buckeyes strayed from their system.
“When you try to cheat something against a really good team defensively, they’re gonna make you pay, and that hurt us,” Matta said.
Russell agreed that getting out of the system was part of OSU’s downfall, and said that’s been the case before.
“When everything’s getting tough we always run away from our system instead of trusting it, and we always end up with a loss,” he said. “We always kick, scratch and claw back and cut it within six, five, whatever it is, but we always run away from our system and it shows at the end with a loss.”
The Buckeyes went into the locker rooms trailing, 36-28, and shooting just 33 percent from the field. But despite the deficit, OSU finished the first half on a high note, cutting the Michigan State lead down from 16 with a 15-7 run.
Russell sparked the charge with back-to-back 3-pointers, but he finished the half just 3-of-8 from the field.
OSU carried some momentum in the second half, cutting the lead to six points with 16:47 to play. Neither team scored for the next 2:58 before Valentine made it 45-37. That bucket began a 15-6 Spartan run, culminating with a 17-point lead with 6:38 to play.
The Buckeyes answered with 13 of the next 14 points to cut the hole down to five, but that was the closest OSU could make the game before Michigan State pulled away down the stretch.
Despite strong points in the second half, Russell said OSU’s slow start was still a key to the loss.
“We struggled to get off to a good start, they made a lot of shots in the beginning, we were missing,” he said. “So that triggered it.”
Along with Russell, senior forward Sam Thompson, a Chicago native, and senior guard Shannon Scott both scored in double figures in their final Big Ten Tournament game. The duo scored 13 points each, but shot a combined 7-of-23 from the field.
With their collegiate careers winding down, Matta said he’ll have to wait and see how the seniors respond.
“We’ll see what those guys are made of in terms of how … prepared they want to be, how hard they want to work and how long they want to play,” he said.
While the loss knocked the Buckeyes out of the conference tournament, OSU is set to learn its NCAA Tournament fate Sunday evening.
Scott noted that it’s “win or go home” for the Buckeyes going forward, but that doesn’t mean he feels the odds are stacked against them.
“I’m not counting us out of anything,” Scott said. “I know the talent that we have on our team. I feel we can make a great run, but we have to be … ready for it.”