Some say a win is a win. No need to tell that to the nearly 19,000 people
that walked out of Value City Arena Saturday night following a narrow 66-64
escape by Ohio State against Michigan State.
In a sea of white, everything was coming up scarlet-colored roses for the
Buckeyes (18-3, 6-1) in the first half. Ohio State took a commanding 43-23 lead
into the halftime locker room. But a herculean effort by Spartan guard Drew Neitzel - 24 second-half points, gave Michigan State a chance to win the game on
a 3-point attempt by Maurice Joseph with seconds left before the final buzzer
"We've got to go back and see what we did well," said OSU head coach Thad
Matta on the Ohio State Radio Network after the game, "and also see what we can
If Charles Dickens had entitled his book a tale of two games, this would have
been an epic novel.
The Buckeyes shot 61 percent in the first half and 24 percent in the second
half. Michigan State shot 30 percent in the first half and 65.5 percent in the
second. As the large lead evaporated on Neitzel's 8-of-13 shooting, the tension
mounted among the anxious Ohio State fans hoping to hold-off the Spartan
Neitzel finished the game with 29 points. Greg Oden, who scored 11 first-half
points, was held without a field goal in the second half. The 7-1 freshman
finished with 19 points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked three shots. He also
finished the game 11-of-14 from the free throw line.
In addition to Ohio State's shooting woes over the last 20 minutes, the
Buckeyes also turned the ball over eight times. Junior Jamar Butler added 12
points for Ohio State while freshman Daequan Cook scored 11, but sat most of the
last four minutes when the game was tight.
Michigan State freshman Raymar Morgan, a 6-7 forward from Canton McKinley,
made his Schottenstein Center homecoming with 14 points for the Spartans. The
floor had been kind to Morgan previously as his high school team won
back-to-back Division I State Championships in the Value City Arena.
What Ohio State Did Wrong And Michigan State Did Right
* Neitzel, the Spartans' leading scorer as a 6-1 junior guard, took control
of the game for Michigan State. To MSU head coach Tom Izzo's credit, the
Spartans continued feeding Neitzel's flow by constantly setting a steady diet of
ball screens and staggered screens to free him up as a shooter out on the top of
the key. Butler was having a hard time keeping up with Neitzel, who did about as
well away from the ball as any shooter could do. Freshman point guard Mike Conley was guarding Travis Walton for much of the second half as he was plagued
with foul trouble. Senior Ron Lewis also tried his hand for the Buckeyes but
lost track of Neitzel on consecutive ball screens. It was OSU freshman David Lighty that bailed the Buckeyes out on the game's final possession with a
terrific defensive stand on Neitzel.
* Although Ohio State's lack of touches for their prized center in the second
half normally would signal better defense employed by the Spartans, Michigan
State did not do anything radically different than the first half where Ohio
State scored 43 points on a series of easy entry passes. Michigan State did
tighten their perimeter pressure, taking away some clear passing lanes, but the
Spartans continued with man defense against Oden on the block - Ohio State
simply did not look to make the pass inside often enough. While the Buckeyes did
venture away from their game plan over the last 10-12 minutes, Michigan State
did keep Oden from turning towards the rim all night long.
* In the second half, seniors Lewis and Ivan Harris were disruptive to Ohio
State's flow. Harris had one series where he got clumsy with the ball early in
the second half trying to toy with his defender and create a shot against his
limitations and lost the ball. Michigan State picked it up, leading to an easy
fastbreak where Harris failed to cut off penetration and fouled Morgan as he
made a shot. Lewis had two 3-pointers blocked in the second half because of
shots from the top of the key off ball screens that were forced.
* Freshman Daequan Cook found out for the second consecutive game that if you
want to be on the floor in crunch time, it's imperative you make good decisions
with the basketball and also play hard on the defensive end. Cook played 20
minutes against the Spartans and was out for most of the last 4-5 minutes,
especially on critical defensive possessions.
* At one point in the first half, Morgan completed a strong finish down
inside the paint and turned as he was heading down the floor and gave Matta a
lengthy stare. The look said it all from the poised freshman as to say, "you
blew it." His play backed up the sentiment Saturday night, as Morgan hurt Ohio
State with his strong body and great feel for the game.
* Michigan State did a nice job cutting off the basket when Conley attempted
to penetrate. However, it became a moot point over the course of the last 10
minutes as Conley's foul trouble precluded him from being aggressive with the
What Ohio State Did Right And Michigan State Did Wrong
* Surprisingly, Michigan State did not double-down on Oden all evening long,
unless he turned inside. The Spartans made the decision to give Oden the
baseline hook and turn-around shot all evening provided they took away the
drop-step. That said, Ohio State was having great success against Michigan
State's rotation of four guys against Oden when the ball entered the post from
the baseline. In the second half, Oden rarely got set up as much of the action
was on the weakside and he was doing more screening and standing in the
high-post than actually posting-up underneath.
* Ohio State took advantage of Lewis' size in the first half by posting him
up against Neitzel on several occasions. In the second half, however, Michigan
State elected to take Neitzel off Lewis and instead play him with bigger
* An unsung effort went largely unnoticed Saturday night by 6-8 Matt Terwilliger. Terwilliger played a precious four minutes but his short stint
giving a first-half breather for Oden produced multiple hustle plays from him,
including diving for one loose ball and a terrific block-out of Marquise Gray.
Terwilliger's time in the game resulted in a 13-4 run by Ohio State, although no
one will claim he was the sole reason for the spurt.
* Lost in the feeling of a loss following the seismic scare is that the
Buckeyes played one of their finest halves of basketball under Matta during that
43-23 showing over the first 20 minutes. Ohio State shadowed Neitzel and Oden's
presence greatly limited Michigan State's post play. Of course, by the same
token, Michigan State (namely Neitzel) played one of the finer halves of
basketball possible in the second 20 minutes, and it was not one of Matta's
finer moments either.
* A small but encouraging sign from the first half was the comfort level of
forward Othello Hunter on the perimeter. He was playing mostly behind the arc
setting screens and holding the ball in the corner, but Hunter played admirably
- canning one baseline jumper and attempting an open 3-pointer. Hunter's
confidence offensively could help Ohio State in March.
The game had much good, bad and and plenty bizarre on both sides. In one
humor-filled moment in the first half, one particular referee hesitated
following a traveling violation by a Michigan State player. Allowing a fan
sitting courtside to signal travel, the official looked him straight in the eye
and smiled as he signaled the violation.
In the second half, Oden took the ball on the same portion of the floor and
shuffled his pivot foot. The referee hesitated and stared down the same fan, not
forgetting to smile as he called yet another travel - this one going
against the Buckeyes.
It was good to know the official was in high spirits, because neither Matta
nor Izzo appeared to be enjoying it quite as much. Sure, both sported sarcastic
smiles all game long, but when push came to shove (and the game provided plenty
of that), both coaches probably felt it was the typical Big Ten officiated
The good news for Ohio State is that they get to play Michigan State again,
and it's likely Neitzel will go off in the zone he found Saturday night. The bad
news for Ohio State is that they have to face Michigan State (and Neitzel) again
- and soon. In fact, the two teams will see one another in another seven days at
the Breslin Center in East Lansing. If Ohio State finds any combination of their
first half production on the road in that game, it may escape for the second
consecutive season with a victory.
A showing like the one in the second half Saturday night will send Ohio State
back home with a result pretty simple to guess.
The game was an entertaining one, to say the least. The "white-out" was
incredibly successful as I estimate nearly 90 percent of the building was
dressed in white. That atmosphere was one that reeked of big-time college
basketball. It was complimentary timing for Dan Schulman, Dick Vitale as well as
Rece Davis, Hubert Davis, Digger Phelps and Jay Bilas - the cast of ESPN's
Take a snapshot though, of these two coaches: Matta and Izzo, against one
another. It's safe to say the next few years may provide many more high-stakes
meetings between the two programs.