Ohio State suffered its biggest blow of the season before Tuesday’s game against sixth-ranked Michigan State even began when it was announced sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate was out for the season with a shoulder injury. It certainly felt like one of the lowest points in season that has been filled with plenty of peaks and valleys for the Buckeyes.
But roughly two hours later, after the Spartans had torched the nets at Value City Arena for an 81-62 win, it felt like somehow, someway things got worse.
“I think everybody in the locker room felt it, felt this one deep tonight,” Ohio State freshman point guard JaQuan Lyle said.
The ill feeling was there because the Buckeyes were almost avalanched by the combination of the Tate injury and Michigan State’s hot shooting in what was the Buckeyes’ most important game of the season; a must-win if you will.
With all three games remaining on Ohio State’s schedule entering Tuesday night against top-10 teams, it was widely believed the Buckeyes needed to win two of those three to put themselves onto the NCAA tournament bubble.
But first came the Tate news, then came Bryn Forbes and Michigan State and Ohio State was left wondering what happened.
Forbes scored 27 points and made 7-of-10 attempts from behind the 3-point lead to pace the Spartans. He wasn’t alone, either, as Denzel Valentine made 4-of-7 tries from downtown and scored 17 points. Michigan State shot 14-for-22 from downtown as a team. That’s a somewhat unfathomable 63.6 percent from deep.
“We did not do a good job defensively in terms of what we were supposed to do,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “They kept making shots at an alarming rate and we didn’t make the adjustments.”
The Buckeyes certainly didn’t make things all that difficult for Forbes and Co., though. Ohio State lost Michigan State’s sharpshooters on numerous occasions, and the Spartans made them pay.
But even with Michigan State’s hot shooting, the Buckeyes were in the game for a while. The Spartans were 7-for-10 from 3-point range in the first half, but only led by five after the opening 20 minutes. From there, though, things just kept rolling and Michigan State continued to pour it on before eventually opening up midway through the second half.
“The set good screens and they have tremendous pace on offense,” Ohio State junior forward Marc Loving said. “The screens were phenomenal to the point where they were getting a lot of open looks and they were able to knock those shots down.”
There are nights like Tuesday throughout the course of a season. You play in the Big Ten and you’re bound to run into a team shooting the lights out and it’s somewhat of a helpless feeling. When that team is also just a better basketball team, there’s just not a lot that can be done.
But what was so disappointing for Ohio State is, of course, when this occurred. The Buckeyes couldn’t afford a loss and they got one. Ohio State’s NCAA tournament hopes are now essentially on life support and may not even be realistic at this point in time. The Buckeyes host Iowa on Sunday and must travel to East Lansing next weekend for a rematch with Michigan State. Ohio State probably needs to win both of those games.
That’s why it was so crucial for the Buckeyes to win Tuesday night. And that’s precisely why it stung so much that it didn’t happen.
“We’ve got another game on Sunday and the games are the fun part,” Matta said. “It’s, ‘Hey, we got beat tonight, we’ve got to pick ourselves up and get ready to go again.”
Lyle echoed his coach, saying, “This one cuts deep but at the end of the day we’ve still got work to do. We seem them again, we have Iowa Sunday so still a chance to get two quality wins.”