Joey Brunk Goes Off Against Michigan State, Scores 18 Points in First Start Since November

By Griffin Strom on March 3, 2022 at 11:13 pm
Joey Brunk

If it seemed like the Spartans weren’t prepared for a monster night from Joey Brunk, it’s because they weren’t.

Michigan State forward Gabe Brown said it himself after the game: the sixth-year center “wasn’t even on the scouting report” ahead of Michigan State’s matchup with Ohio State.

In defense of Tom Izzo, the Buckeyes probably weren’t expecting such a Herculean effort either. Brunk entered the night averaging just 5.2 minutes per game this season for Ohio State, with a scoring average of 1.3 points. In the two previous games Brunk had started for the Buckeyes, he played a combined 13 minutes and scored just four points.

But with Zed Key and Kyle Young both sidelined, Brunk tripled his previous season-high for Ohio State, scoring 18 points on 7-for-10 shooting in 33 minutes at the Schottenstein Center. Far more than just a last-minute fill-in, Brunk was among the primary reasons Ohio State notched a 80-69 win to end its two-game losing skid in style.

“Never thought in a million years, Joey Brunk,” Izzo said after the game. “I recruited Joey, great kid. I know he’s been through injuries and everything, but to get 18 points and tear us up like he did, I guess you could say it’s my fault for not doubling him. But boy, if you have to double him, he averaged 1.1 points or something like that. Shame on our guys.”

Brunk had previously demonstrated his low-post prowess on occasion earlier in the season, but never with as much consistency or confidence as he did on Thursday. He may not have scored during Ohio State’s opening 13-0 run, but by the 7:53 mark of the first half, it was clear that Brunk was having an above-average evening.

By that point, Brunk had already equaled his season-high point total with six on a series of post moves. A little over a minute later, Brunk knocked down two free throws – part of a 9-0 Ohio State run – that gave him his highest-scoring night in a scarlet and gray uniform.

“(It felt) pretty damn good if you want the honest answer,” Brunk said with a grin after the game. “It just felt good to go out and compete and play in front of that crowd. … We knew we needed to get back on track.”

Brunk finished the first half with 10 points in 17 minutes, which already tied the most he had played in any full game all season. Luckily for the Buckeyes, who took a 10-point lead to halftime, Brunk was not done there.

The first-year Buckeye scored six straight points for the Buckeyes during one stretch from the 17:37 mark to 16:18, helping engineer an 8-3 run that took Ohio State from up 10 to ahead by 15 with 15:11 to go.

Brunk only scored one more time all game, ad his impact had already been made in spades for the Buckeyes. But his final bucket was a fitting one, as Brunk threw down a two-handed dunk with 1:52 to play that brought the home crowd to its feet as chants of “Joey” filled the air at the Schottenstein Center. It was an image that put the punctuation on a picturesque night for the longtime college hoops veteran.

Brunk said afterwards his favorite moment of the game was “when the clock ran out and we were celebrating.” But E.J. Liddell, who was sitting next to Brunk at the postgame press conference, quickly cut his teammate off to say, “He’s lying, it was definitely the dunk.”

“I don’t think I’ve had an in-game dunk in over probably two years, so it's been a little while since that’s happened,” Brunk said while laughing.

Just one game prior, the Spartans gave up 33 points to Michigan’s 7-foot center Hunter Dickinson. Even though Holtmann knew he’d be without his two top centers in Thursday’s game, he figured the 6-foot-11 Brunk might have a matchup he could exploit against Michigan State.

“We did come in thinking that he was going to be a guy we were actually going to run stuff for,” Holtmann said. “Partly because we’ve seen it in practice, we’ve seen him score consistently in practice, so we did feel like he was capable of that. We just had to get him to his spots. He was probably even better than I thought, but we did go in saying, ‘We need to utilize him.’”

While Izzo and the Spartans might have been caught off guard by Brunk’s productivity, it was only two years ago that the Indianapolis native put up 14 points on Michigan State as an Indiana Hoosier during the 2019-20 season.

“Tom’s aware of him. Tom’s probably saying, ‘I don’t know what Holt’s doing not playing him, what an idiot.’ That’s probably what Tom’s thinking,” Holtmann said. “I don’t know how surprised he was. He might have been surprised how much we went to him.”

Both Key and Young will still be dealing with injury issues come Sunday, when Ohio State closes the regular season against Michigan, but the timeline regarding those ailments has not been disclosed. Key suffered an ankle injury against Maryland on Sunday that Holtmann has described as “significant,” and the Buckeye head coach confirmed Thursday that Young is in concussion protocol.

Expecting a repeat performance from Brunk would probably be asking too much, but the Buckeyes will need a big body to battle with Michigan’s Dickinson nonetheless.

Regardless of whether Brunk plays significant minutes moving forward or not, Holtmann said his commitment to the team won’t waver.

“It’s an unbelievable testament to the kid. When you think about he’s had multiple DNPs, coach’s decision. He’s been as invested in our team as anybody on our team,” Holtmann said. “I mean he’s been as invested as E.J. Liddell, as Kyle Young, as our captains. Fully invested. And I think it’s a great sign of character.”

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