PREVIEW: Spartans seek redemption as Buckeyes roll into town
With just three home games remaining in the regular season and the NCAA Tournament quickly approaching, MSU will host the Ohio State University Buckeyes on Tuesday for a rematch of the Jan. 15 matchup where the Buckeyes used 10 3-point field goals to propel past the Spartans in Columbus, Ohio, for a 72-67 win.
The Spartans (15-10, 7-5 Big Ten) bounced back after a blowout loss to University of Michigan last Tuesday and are fresh off a 77-66 win over the University of Iowa Hawkeyes on Sunday. Despite 21 points scored by Iowa on 21 turnovers committed by MSU, each of the team’s freshmen combined for 53 points — the four highest scoring totals on the team.
Freshmen forward Miles Bridges and guard Josh Langford both started the game and scored 16 and 11 points, respectively, and guard Cassius Winston and forward Nick Ward came off the bench to combine for 26 points. In total, MSU’s freshmen combined for 19 of the team’s 29 field goals, a sign of significant growth, head coach Tom Izzo said.
“I think it’s the first time in many, many years that four freshmen have scored in double-figures,” Izzo said in his weekly press conference. “I’m only proud of that because I think our freshmen have deserved to put their name somewhere on something. It’s not easy to do but they are making progress.”
Izzo said Monday that cutting the amount of turnovers would be a point of emphasis in the coming games for the Spartans. MSU is averaging 71.7 points per game while netting, on average, 47.8 percent of all shots from the field. Izzo said cutting down on turnovers is the next step in the team’s progression.
“It is limiting our chances as a scoring team because we are shooting so well,” Izzo said. “We are shooting almost 50 percent, which means every two turnovers is costing us a chance for a basket. … The basic, simple fact is that you have to defend, you have to rebound, you have to run, you have to take care of the ball. We are starting to do three of the four better.”
The Buckeyes (15-11, 5-8 Big Ten) will come into the game off an 86-77 loss to No. 21 Maryland, but having won two of their last three contests. Thus far in conference play, the Buckeyes average 73.2 points a game while shooting 46 percent from the field, but allow 69 points on 41 percent shooting from the field for opponents.
Junior forward Jae’Sean Tate comes into the Breslin Center leading all Buckeye scorers, averaging 14.3 points a game while the rest of Ohio State's starting five also average double-figure scoring. Last time against the Spartans, sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle led the way with a game-high 22 points, and junior center Trevor Thompson finished with 10 points and was two rebounds short of a double-double.
“I thought our game down there we did a decent job defensively on everyone except Lyle and probably a poor job offensively,” Izzo said. “With Lyle and (Marc Loving) both shooting over 44 percent from the three in the league, that’s concerning, but the biggest thing is every game they’ve been in.”
With only six games remaining before the start of the Big Ten Tournament, MSU currently ranks No. 5 in the conference standings and the team is one game behind Northwestern for the No. 4 seed. With a resume that might be unfit for the NCAA Tournament selection committee, every game will count for the Spartans moving forward to clinch a berth in MSU’s 20th-straight NCAA Tournament.
A win over the Buckeyes would serve as both vengeance and a momentum-builder going forward. Izzo said his will to finish the season strong doesn’t rely on the program’s lengthy streak.
“What motivates me is giving freshmen a chance to do something they’ve never done. I mean, when you have a streak like we have, that’s an odd streak,” Izzo said. “Is it in the back of my mind? But that’s not my rah-rah speech every time, don’t break my streak, don’t break our streak. … I would rather stay in the moment, and the moment is to make sure these guys get to experience some things that, either number one they’ve never experienced before, or number two, as they leave here, what they’re going to have to take with them.”
Tipoff is set for 9 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPN. Follow The State News basketball reporters on Twitter, or follow along with the live blog leading up to the game.