Loss to Michigan State exposes flaw-filled Buckeye team
It was just one loss- and only its fourth of the season- but No. 3 Ohio State’s 58-48 defeat at the hands of No. 11 Michigan State may have been its most telling. The Buckeyes looked undisciplined, inefficient, and inexperienced on Saturday against a Spartans team that took advantage and may have exposed some fatal flaws in a team that was a favorite to advance to the Final Four at the beginning of the season.
For a team that returned just one senior and has 11 combined freshmen and sophomores on its roster, a lack of experience has always been an issue, but it never was more apparent than it was on Saturday. Down by double-digits at home for the first time all season, the Buckeyes failed to respond to the Spartans strong first half effort and fell behind by as many as 12 points in the second half. When OSU finally did make a run late in the game, it only managed to cut MSU’s lead to four points before quickly falling back to a double-digit deficit.
“It’s got to be a learning experience for a relatively young basketball team,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “We have to look at why we didn’t play well. We’ve got to get those things corrected.”
The Buckeyes’ lack of of experience was particularly apparent in their lack of discipline. Sophomore forward Jared Sullinger admitted as much, stating that a failure to stick to the game plan was the main reason behind OSU’s fourth loss.
“We’ve played 25 games and we decided the twenty-fifth game, we wasn’t going to play our system,” Sullinger said. “We looked out of sync, we didn’t execute our offense, that’s the biggest thing.”
OSU sophomore point guard Aaron Craft confirmed that the Buckeyes didn’t always execute the game plan that they had in store for the Spartans.
“When it came down to it, some of our actions are supposed to flow from side-to-side,” sophomore Craft said. “We got a little selfish and were looking for our own shots.”
Ignoring Matta’s system led to missed shots for the Buckeyes, and lots of them. OSU shot an alarming 26.4 percent from the field on 14-of-53 shooting, including a 2-of-15 performance from 3-point range. Senior guard William Buford and Deshaun Thomas combined for 20 missed shots and failed to provide Sullinger- the only OSU player to reach double-digits in scoring- with enough help for a winning effort.
As opposed to a year ago, when the Buckeyes made 42.3 percent of their 3-point attempts, this year’s OSU squad is converting on just 34.1 percent of its attempts from long range. If there is one thing that’s clear through the first 25 games, it’s that the Buckeyes don’t have enough consistent outside shooting to replace what Jon Diebler provided to this team a season ago.
“We weren’t good enough at the execution and getting to where we needed to be and doing the things that we needed to do,” Matta said. “It kind of compounded itself the more shots that we missed.”
With Matta going just two players deep into his bench against the Spartans, it is possible that an outside shooting threat could be on his bench in either Jordan Sibert or LaQuinton Ross. Not examining alternative options and line-ups wasn’t the way in which the Buckeyes’ shallow rotation hurt the team as the Spartans made it a point to push the ball and move in consistently on offense in hopes of tiring their opponent.
“We tried to wear them down by running on offense,” MSU coach Tom Izzo said. “We just kept telling our big guys to sprint every time on the break, even if it’s not there. They have depth this year, which they haven’t had in a couple years, but not as much for (Sullinger).”
But despite all that went wrong on Saturday, the Buckeyes are still sitting at 21-4 and in a tie for the Big Ten standings. The road to the Big Ten regular season title now travels through East Lansing, but there are plenty of reasons for the rest of the conference to fear an OSU squad that just suffered its first home loss in the last 40 games at Value City Arena.
“We got to refocus. We’re still at the top of the league,” Craft said. “We got a long way to go.”