Big Ten Semifinal No. 1: Ohio State maxes out in Indy, knocks out Michigan State
Ohio State vs Michigan State
They shot, they rebounded, and with a tidal wave of confidence, they made Michigan State curse the air. One day after firmly securing their NCAA Tournament ticket, the Ohio State Buckeyes acted like a team freed from the clutches of pressure.
A loose and relaxed fifth seed played giant killer on Saturday afternoon in Indianapolis, thumping top-seeded Michigan State, 82-70, in Conseco Fieldhouse. Ohio State inched past Iowa and barely nudged aside Northwestern at the end of the Big Ten season, but after outfighting Wisconsin in a Friday quarterfinal that dispelled all doubt from their locker room, Thad Matta's men had some fun against Tom Izzo's Spartans, who will have to wait another year to win the Big Ten Tournament. Sparty hasn't taken this event since 2000, and after bowing to a better club in this semifinal smackdown, the East Lansing powerhouse will have to settle for its regular-season crown and regroup in time for the NCAAs next weekend.
The end result might have been shocking to longtime followers of Big Ten basketball, but an explanation for this 12-point pounding was really rather simple. Ohio State played with the weight of the bubble on its shoulders in recent weeks, but the 61-57 act of survival against Wisconsin turned the Buckeye bench into a celebratory place. Liberated by their breakthrough against the Badgers, the scarlet-clad studs let it ride against the heavyweight team in the conference, and it showed from start to finish.
William Buford lit up MSU's decorated defense on 6-of-7 shooting in the first half to free up other shooters, and from there, the rest of Buford's teammates picked up the slack, as the dominoes fell in OSU's favor. Once Buford banged in some shots, the Bucks were able to establish solid ball rotation largely orchestrated by superstar Evan Turner, who did a little more distributing in this game compared to the Wisconsin quarterfinal. Turner handed out 4 first-half assists, and--thanks to Buford's brilliance--found good passing lanes against MSU's defense. As a result, Buckeye sniper Jon Diebler--the man who has to shoot well for Ohio State to truly thrive--was able to produce one of his better games of the year. No longer disappearing in halfcourt sets, Diebler moved more aggressively and shot the ball more confidently. When all was said and done, the expert marksman hit 5-of-11 3-point shots to finish with 17 points on the afternoon.
The parade of primo performances didn't stop there, however. Everybody joined the act for Ohio State, as guards Jeremie Simmons and P.J. Hill (14 points combined) knocked down perimeter shots and offered dogged defense that held the Spartans in check at the other end of the floor. In the paint, both B.J. Mullens and a revived Dallas Lauderdale--who has really come on strong for the Bucks in recent weeks--made themselves active and elusive, as they combined for 19 points and gave crucial added balance to the Buckeye attack.
When the dealing was done in Conseco, seven Ohio State players saw at least 15 minutes of floor time, and none of them failed to make a significant contribution to a very impressive victory. This level of play enabled the fifth seed to gain a 10-point lead (51-41) with just over 12 minutes left in regulation, and then maintain that double-digit advantage the rest of the way. Purdue managed to score a lopsided win over Michigan State earlier in the year, but that came in Mackey Arena. For any team to spank the Spartans by more than 10 points on a neutral floor, a max-out performance has to emerge, and that's exactly what happened for Ohio State.
To add one more piece to this portrait of OSU excellence, it has to be said that Michigan State--who usually cleans up on the boards against conference foes--could only eclipse Ohio State by five (36-31) on the glass, thanks largely to Turner, who supplemented his fine passing with 10 huge rebounds. With OSU outshooting MSU to a considerable degree--53 percent to 38 percent (even more decisively from 3-point range)--the Buckeyes had fewer missed shots to chase down. This means that OSU really protected the defensive boards against their muscular opponent.
You name it, Ohio State did it well against mighty Michigan State. The Spartans will settle for a No. 2 seed in the NCAAs, and mount an attempt to play in Detroit on the first weekend of April. Ohio State isn't ready to do what Greg Oden and Mike Conley did two seasons ago, but if the Buckeyes can play the way they did today against Tom Izzo's crew, they'll go deeper into the Big Dance than a lot of folks think.