Ohio State is going to East Lansing, Michigan, with the upper hand as the Buckeyes already have a win under their belt against Michigan State, defeating the Spartans 72-67 on Jan. 15 in Columbus. However, with seeding in the Big Ten tournament and dwindling hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament on the line, the pressure is palpable approaching the final five games of the Big Ten regular season.
OSU has won only two of seven road games in Big Ten play, and junior forward Jae’Sean Tate said it’s tough for opposing teams to win at the Breslin Center.
“There is a tough environment out there,” Tate said. “I haven’t won out there before, so just trying to go in there and get the ‘W’ there.”
One of the players who might stand in OSU’s way of victory is Michigan State freshman forward Miles Bridges. OSU coach Thad Matta said Bridges’ 24-point, nine-rebound performance against the Buckeyes in January was as impressive of a performance from a freshman he’s seen this year.
“He’s tremendous and we have to do a better job of trying to slow him down,” Matta said.
Bridges shot 75 percent from the floor and hit 4-of-5 3-point shots, but was the only Spartan in double figures that day. Tate hinted that his plan for defending Bridges will have to change this time around.
“I can’t let him get comfortable from the 3 because once he sees a couple go in, then he’s tough to guard,” Tate said. “Just trying to make him as uncomfortable as he can from the perimeter because he has a lot of aspects to his game. Once he gets going, he’s hard to stop.”
OSU has had trouble defending the perimeter shot as of late. In the loss to the Terrapins, the Buckeyes allowed 29 attempts behind the 3-point line, with Maryland converting on 41.4 percent of those shots.
Offensively, OSU’s scoring leader for the first game against the Spartans, sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle, is returning after having to leave the team due to a family emergency. Lyle shot 66.7 percent from the field and led the team with 22 points in the five-point win. Matta said Lyle and the rest of the OSU offense is going to have to face a very stout defensive team.
“Michigan State, I think, is as good as anyone in the Big Ten defensively,” Matta said. “They are going to make you earn everything that you get in the game tomorrow night. They are going to have a tremendous push in transition. They are trying to score as quick as they can. If it’s not there, they are going to execute one, or sometimes two sets in a possession.”
In the Spartans’ last game, a 77-66 win over Iowa, Michigan State held the Hawkeyes to shoot only 32.8 percent from the field, converting only four 3-pointers on 21 attempts. Size was a big factor in the win as well, with Bridges and redshirt sophomore forward Kenny Goins combining for 21 of the Spartans’ 46 rebounds.
With only five games left before the Big Ten tournament, OSU has a limited amount of time to boost its resume to be in consideration for the NCAA Tournament. Tate said this team is feeling the pressure going into the end of the season.
“There is no margin for error,” he said. “We just have to go in these last five or six games like there is no margin. We have to win these ones.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 9 p.m. at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Michigan.