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.
GAME OF THE NIGHT: Utah at No. 16 Oregon, 4:00 p.m.
From Rob Dauster’s Weekend Preview:
Utah suffered one of the worst losses I’ve seen in a while on Thursday night, when Brandon Taylor, for some unknown reason, decided to foul an Oregon State player firing up a half court prayer at the buzzer. The Utes, who are arguably the second-best team in the Pac-12, will look to bounce-back on Sunday against the best team in the Pac-12, No. 16 Oregon at 4:00 p.m.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:
1. No. 12 SMU will attempt to stay atop the American standings as they travel to South Florida. While the Mustangs won the first matchup between these two teams at home by 14, they’ve dropped their last two games on the road.
2. A few more American contests are going down as East Carolina travels to UConn and Houston heads to Tulsa. The game between the Cougars and Golden Hurricane is especially interesting because both teams are sitting two games back of SMU and trying to make a move on the postseason.
3. No. 5 Iowa continues the soft part of the schedule as they face Illinois on the road. The Hawkeyes posted recent easy victories over Northwestern and Penn State and will be heavily favored again on Sunday.
4. Could be an intriguing game as No. 17 Miami travels to Georgia Tech. Although the Yellow Jackets aren’t a major contender in the ACC, they’ve been tough this season, especially at home. The Hurricanes fell victim to Georgia Tech last season while they were ranked by Marcus Georges-Hunt has to get back on track after a recent slump for that to happen.
5. There is an Atlantic 10 game that will be featured on NBCSN on Sunday: Saint Louis at St. Bonaventure (2:00 p.m.).
CLICK HERE to watch these games on NBC Sports Live Extra Sunday afternoon.
Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.
In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.
And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.
Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.
And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.
This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.