Shortly before the Ohio State men’s basketball team’s game against No. 6 Michigan State, it was revealed that starting forward Jae’Sean Tate would need shoulder surgery to end his season.
Without its most consistent player available, many wondered how OSU would perform in a game it desperately needed to win in order to pad its marginal-at-best tournament résumé.
As it turned out on Tuesday at the Schottenstein Center, the post-Tate Buckeyes resemble the team with the sophomore healthy: flashes of what it takes to get it done, but ultimately not there.
The Spartans (23-5, 10-5) denied the Buckeyes (18-11, 10-6) that signature win it so badly needs with a blisteringly hot shooting performance. When the clock hit zero, the scoreboard read 81-62 in favor of the visitors.
“Jae’Sean is kind of the heart and soul of this basketball team,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “We challenged our guys, ‘Man down, we’ve got to man up.’ It is what it is.”
Michigan State shot 14-of-22 from outside the 3-point arc on Tuesday, led by senior guards Bryn Forbes and Denzel Washington, who connected on seven and four triples, respectively.
“They set great screens and they have tremendous pace on offense,” junior forward Marc Loving said on the Spartans’ 3-point prowess. “The screens were phenomenal to the point that they were getting a lot of open looks, and they were able to knock the shots down.”
Despite the rather sizable difference in record and national perception, OSU hung tough with the Spartans throughout a highly competitive first half.
The visitors were able to swell their lead to six points midway through the first half after a pair of jumpers, but the Buckeyes clawed back with a 7-0 run to briefly snatch a one-point lead. Seven points from Michigan State senior guard Denzel Valentine followed to get the lead back to six, but OSU managed to keep the game within reach at the break, 36-31.
“I give Ohio State a lot of credit, considering they lose a guy the day of,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I know what that’s like, and it’s hard, and Thad did a hell of a job.”
While the advantage on the scoreboard was short-lived, it had to be an encouraging opening 20 minutes for Matta’s squad against the sixth-ranked Spartans.
In OSU’s previous game, a 65-62 overtime win at Nebraska, only four Buckeyes scored a point over the entire 45-minute duration. By the 12:50 mark of the first half on Tuesday, OSU had its fifth scorer in the books after a 3-pointer by Loving.
However, those five scorers would be the only five in the first half for Matta. Freshmen Mickey Mitchell, Daniel Giddens and A.J. Harris combined for zero points on five missed shots, including a pair of airballs by Mitchell, who was inserted into the starting lineup for Tate.
Loving led the Buckeyes with nine points at the half, as he continued to fight through his month-long shooting slump. He was followed by redshirt sophomore center Trevor Thompson with seven.
On the other side, Valentine, a leading contender for national player of the year honors, had 12 first-half points to lead all scorers. He also chipped in four assists for the Spartans, who shot 44.8 percent to OSU’s 35.7 in the first act.
“Valentine is, I think the best player in the country,” Matta said. “He does so much.”
However, given that Michigan State was a scorching-hot 7-of-10 from outside in the first half but just 6-of-19 from inside the arc, OSU could reasonably believe the Spartans’ shooting would cool off, giving the Buckeyes a chance to take advantage and mount a comeback.
That isn’t what happened out of the locker rooms. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Forbes followed by a trio of baskets by senior forward Matt Costello and a fast-break layup gave Michigan State its largest lead up to that point of 10 just minutes into the second half. That lead continued to swell behind successful inside and outside games.
That second-half charge was run by torrid shooting performance by Forbes, who made six of the eight 3-pointers he hoisted in the second half. Overall, the former Cleveland State transfer finished with 27 points on 9-of-14 shooting. After the game, Izzo said he bailed his team out and “played his tail off.”
“First half, we did a good job playing hard, playing tough, then second half, when Bryn Forbes started hitting shots, I felt we just started hanging our heads,” freshman guard JaQuan Lyle said.
While the Schottenstein Center crowd of 14,257 tried to will the Buckeyes back into the game, the combination of the Spartans’ hot shooting and OSU’s cold spell — the Buckeyes shot just 20 percent from outside in the second half — was too much to deal with.
“They were making a lot of shots, and we couldn’t get one to fall,” Lyle said.
Loving and Lyle were the high-scorers for the Scarlet and Gray with 19 and 16 points, respectively. OSU shot 45 percent in the second half, but a 64.3-percent performance over the final 20 minutes by the Spartans nullified any momentum that could create.
Mitchell ended up failing to register a point in his first collegiate start in 21 minutes. It was the seventh consecutive game that the Plano, Texas, native failed to score a point.
“We felt like Mickey is getting more and more experience, and he’s going to continue to grow,” Matta said on his decision to insert the freshman into the starting lineup.
OSU will have two more chances to grab a victory over a top 10 team before Big Ten tournament play begins, as it is set to host No. 8 Iowa on Sunday before traveling to East Lansing, Michigan, for a rematch with the Spartans on March 5. The games are scheduled to start at 4 p.m. and noon, respectively.