By Kyle Williams
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo didn’t mince words about his team’s performance in their 68-58 Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal loss to Ohio State.
“It’s one of the more disappointing days because I thought we had a legitimate chance to maybe win this (tournament),” Izzo said. “Today, we laid an egg. Part of it was Ohio State, and part of it was Michigan State.”
Izzo said after the game that “defense wins games” in the Big Ten tournament. The Spartans showed in spurts the potential of a team that can go far in March – cutting the deficit to six with 5:03 remaining — but not being able to sustain that level of play for more than a burst hurt them.
The Spartans lost this game on the defensive end as they offered little resistance against Ohio State’s offense. The Buckeyes shot 14-for-27 from the field, 5-for-9 from the 3-point line and led 33-24 at halftime. The early deficit zapped the Spartans’ energy.
“We let them make shots and that kind of took our energy away,” senior guard Tyson Walker said. “Stuff like that can’t happen, especially when our defense got us back into it.”
The Spartans ripped off a 10-3 run after the break to trim the lead to 34-36. But after a missed Jaxon Kohler point-blank layup that would have tied the game, Ohio State answered with back-to-back 3-pointers to extend the lead to eight.
The 3-pointers Ohio State knocked down were wide open: The Spartans struggled at preventing Ohio State from getting into the paint.
“We were giving up too many driving lanes, and we were getting put in tough situations because they were confident from three today,” sophomore guard Jaden Akins said. “You didn’t know if you wanted to help or try to stop the ball when they were driving.”
Michigan State finished the regular season as a middle-of-the-pack defensive team: The Spartans were seventh in points allowed per game (67.4 points per game) and held opponents to 42% shooting from the field and 31.5% from the 3-point line. That defensive energy didn’t show against the Buckeyes, who scored 68 points on 44.6% shooting from the field and 52.6% from the 3-point line without leading scorer Brice Sensabaugh (16.3 points per game), who sat out due to knee soreness.
“Sometimes, when you start playing better offensively, I feel we got casual defensively,” Izzo said. “You saw that one stretch when we weren’t; that should be 40 minutes of that, and that falls on me.”
With Michigan State likely to make the NCAA Tournament — the Spartans were ranked 31st according to KenPom, a college basketball statistical website that factors in strength of schedule — there’s little time to wallow in defeat.
“Today we didn’t come ready to play, but we’ve got a second chance in the tournament to turn things around,” Adkins said. “We know we’ve got to put our all into that and make this run.”
Kyle Williams is a sports media graduate student at Northwestern. You can follow him at @K_Williamsmedia on Twitter.