Plenty of people had questions about No. 3 Ohio State entering their game with No. 5 Michigan State at the Breslin Center on Tuesday night.
Can a team with such issues on the offensive end of the floor really be the third-best team in the country? Does winning at sputtering Marquette, or beating a depleted Maryland, or a miracle comeback against a thoroughly average Notre Dame team really justify their lofty standing nationally? Did they enter this game undefeated because they’re that good or because their schedule, well, wasn’t?
Tuesday was going to tell us all we needed to know.
Michigan State has played like they are the best team in the country when healthy, and on Tuesday, they weren’t even healthy. Travis Trice didn’t play. Adreian Payne, who has been dealing with plantar fasciitis, also sprained his foot. Matt Costello still found himself playing limited minutes. And yet, the Spartans were still able to stretch a 28-21 halftime lead to 55-38 with just over seven minutes left in the game.
That’s when Ohio State took over.
The Buckeyes are one of the best teams in the country on the defensive end of the floor, and there may not be a better defensive back court anywhere than the pairing of Shannon Scott and Aaron Craft. That defense was on display over the course of those final seven minutes, as the Buckeyes went on a thrilling, 20-3 run to tie the game and force overtime. Hell, they almost won it in regulation. If it wasn’t for an unbelievable defensively play from Keith Appling on a fast break layup for Scott, Sparty would be heading back into the frozen tundra of East Lansing with a loss.
Ohio State ended up losing in overtime, 72-68, but that doesn’t take away from just how impressive that comeback was.
What happened was simple, really.
Michigan State got a bit lackadaisical offensively, thinking they would be coasting in for an easy win. Ohio State took advantage, cranking the screws defensively and making Michigan State look like a men’s league team that was 10 minutes past being gassed. During that 20-3 run, the Buckeyes forced nine turnovers, which led to nine points and put them in complete control of the game.
But here’s the thing: we didn’t learn anything new about Ohio State.
Yeah, they are going to defend you. Yes, they can force turnovers. Obviously, when those turnovers come in bunches they can create massive comebacks. Notre Dame will tell you that.
But this is also still a team that really struggles on the offensive end of the floor. Their only go-to guy is LaQuinton Ross, an inconsistent talent who just-so-happened to have an off-night on Tuesday. He finished the night 1-for-7 with just five points and was benched for freshman Marc Loving down the stretch. Neither Craft or Scott can break down a defense off the dribble. Neither of them are a real threat in the pick-and-roll. Amir Williams, Sam Thompson, Lenzelle Smith. These aren’t guys that need to be game-planned around for opponents.
Those issues were quite evident outside of the seven minutes at the end of regulation.
Ohio State is going to have a lot of nights like this, especially when LaQuinton Ross isn’t shooting the ball all that well.
But with that defense, there aren’t going to be many nights where they’re ever out of a game.