After winning three straight games Ohio State dropped road games at Penn State and Indiana, falling out of the national polls and finding themselves in danger of not receiving a first-round bye in next week’s Big Ten tournament as a result. The Buckeyes’ game against No. 22 Michigan State was also Senior Day for a highly successful class, but the most important thing for Thad Matta’s team to do was get back on track ahead of postseason play.
Ohio State (23-8, 10-8) was able to do that thanks in large part to their effort on the defensive end, holding Michigan State (23-8, 12-6) scoreless over the final 4:30 to win 69-67 in the regular season finale for both.
The Buckeyes are by no means an explosive offensive team; that much has been known all season long. And the absence of a consistent shot-maker has meant that Ohio State has needed to adjust, something they’ve struggled with at times in conference play. One way in which to make up for that deficiency is to attack the paint and Ohio State was able to do that Sunday, outscoring the Spartans 34-20 in that statistical category.
LaQuinton Ross, a gifted player who’s struggled to put it all together on a consistent basis, scored a team-high 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting. He rarely settled for tough shots against Michigan State, and it will be interesting to see if he can build on this performance as Ohio State enters postseason play. And if this group is to make any kind of noise in the NCAA tournament that has to be the case.
Ross’ individual performance is to be commended, but the defense down the stretch made the difference. In the final 4:30 Michigan State turned the ball over three times and missed four shots, with Ohio State keeping the Spartans from establishing any rhythm offensively. And for the game the Buckeyes would force 16 turnovers, converting those mistakes into 21 valuable points (plus-9 in points off turnovers). Ohio State may not have prolific scorers but they do have quality defenders, led by a senior in Craft (now the Big Ten’s all-time steals leader) who managed to corral a critical rebound with 29 seconds remaining.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Ohio State in conference play, as evidenced by their ten league losses. But this is still a group that has experience and the ability to defend. Do that while finding quality looks on the other end, and Ohio State can be successful as the games get even bigger this month.