After an impressive first half, foul trouble and a return to form by Michigan State spelled doom for the Buckeyes, an 86-77 Big Ten loss to the Spartans.
Columbus – The team that sometimes plays as though it should have a question mark on the front of its jersey rather than Ohio State looked to be taking the world of college basketball by the shirt collar and forcing it to take notice.
The Buckeyes ended the first half against Michigan State with a three-pointer by Kaleb Wesson and upped their lead to nine points 66 seconds into the second half on two free throws by Wesson.
It looked to be a statement type game in every way, and the huge crowd was making it difficult to think, let alone hear.
Just like that, though, Wesson was called for a second and third foul within five seconds of one another, and was headed to the bench with 18:36 left.
One minute and 15 seconds later, senior point guard C.J. Jackson limped off the court with a recurrence of leg cramps that have cropped up throughout his career. He was never the same.
And, of course, the eighth-ranked Spartans began playing like the team that has dominated the Big Ten for almost a quarter century under coach Tom Izzo.
With guard Cassius Winston totaling 25 points and five assists and center Nick Ward of nearby Gahanna going for 21 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots, Michigan State wore down Ohio State 86-77 before 18,809 on Saturday at The Schott.
The Spartans (13-2, 4-0) won their 16th straight Big Ten game since last season by shooting 76 percent (13-for-17) and scoring 50 points in the final 20 minutes.
“I don’t think we should have lost the game,’’ Kaleb Wesson said. “I don’t think they are any better than we are. We just had mishaps late in the game that cost us the game. I don’t think there is any huge step or level we need to take to beat a team like that. They are top 10 in the country and you give them life, they are going to take it and run with it.’’
Ohio State (12-2, 2-1) scored one basket, a driving layup by Luther Muhammad with 44.1 seconds left, after Andre Wesson hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 69 with 5:59 left.
The Buckeyes had a lot of negative numbers in giving up 17 fast break points, getting out-rebounded 37-26, shooting 7-for-24 from three-point range and having Kaleb and Andre Wesson and Muhammad foul out.
“I thought our experience helped a little bit in the second half,’’ Izzo said. “We talked a lot this week that defense travels. The problem is, when you start shooting threes and score 80 points a game you think you can win it a different way. You don’t win on the road in this league without defense.’’
Officials Terry Oglesby, Courtney Green and Steve McJunkins didn’t give the players much creative freedom in calling 46 fouls, 26 on Ohio State.
A huge key was Michigan State making 30 of 37 free throws with the clocked stopped. Ohio State was 16-for-21.
Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann talked about his team’s shortcomings down the stretch.
“There’s a lot to learn from this – we need to get better,’’ Holtmann said. “Give Michigan State credit for pulling out the win. They were better than we were in a lot of ways. Certainly when you allow a team to shoot 76 percent in the second half and score 50 points, your chances are slim and none. We put them on the line too much and we made some not intelligent plays to put them on the line, and they converted from the line.’’
But the game really turned for good in a big way after Kaleb Wesson received his second and third fouls. Ward made two free throws to cut the deficit to 45-38 after the third foul.
“I caught a silly one first trying to reach around and deny the ball in the post,’’ Wesson said. “I don’t know what happened on the second one. I didn’t even get an explanation. I’ve got to cut out the silly fouls. At times the refs were letting us play. That’s the type of game I like to play – physical.’’
He was limited to 28 minutes, 20 seconds playing time because of the fouls.
As for Jackson, he went in and out of the lineup in the second half trying to make a go of it, but did not play after the 9:28 mark. He was on his way to a career-type game and finished with 10 points, five assists and four steals.
“This game was probably the worst of the year so far (for cramps),’’ Jackson said.
Holtmann listened to trainers in deciding that enough was enough for Jackson.
“He tried to go back in but he couldn’t move,’’ Holtmann said. “I think he thought he could go. The guys on the bench were saying, ‘He’s not himself, he’s not himself.’ At that point we have to go with somebody else. He was playing really well. He was really active in the first half and led us in deflections. If he plays 35 minutes – 10 more minutes – are we going to win the game? Who knows? He had to come out at that point.’’
Michigan State needed less than four minutes to take the lead, 51-50, on a three-pointer from the baseline by Aaron Henry with 14:50 remaining.
The score went back and forth until Kaleb Wesson missed two free throws and Duane Washington forced a driving shot in double coverage on successive possessions. At the other end, Kenny Goins had a reverse layup and Kyle Ahrens a putback for a 77-72 Spartans lead with 2:37 left.
Ahrens, a redshirt junior from Versailles, scored nine points, but two buckets were important.
First, he drove the lane for a dunk for a 60-59 lead with 10:27 left. Next, he had the putback.
“This was a big game for him, too,’’ Izzo said of Ahrens. “Not only is he from Ohio, but he has his brother on the other team and his poor parents had Buckeyes sweaters on and Spartan underwear. It’s a tough deal for them, but it meant a lot for him.’’
Holtmann didn’t use foul trouble as an excuse, but pointed to his team’s failure to produce quality offensive possessions and lockdown defense down the stretch.
“We had too many errors that are costly when you are in league play,’’ he said. “It’s a missed block out there, it’s a poor defensive transition and it is a missed assignment. We just had too many of those errors. That’s where our veteran guys have to be on point. They have to lead in those areas, and we’re not there yet.’’