Michigan State went into the Big Ten Tournament with an offense firing on all cylinders and a defense that had shown upside early in the year. Head men's basketball coach Tom Izzo stressed balance heading into the post-season, hoping to keep up that offensive flow but bring back some of that strong defense that was present for a majority of the season.
Michigan State had neither in Friday afternoon’s Big Ten Tournament loss to Ohio State.
“Today we laid an egg and part of it was Ohio State and part of it was Michigan State,” Izzo said.
OSU had an incredible performance - especially considering the circumstances. This was the Buckeyes’ third game in as many days and less than an hour before tipoff, it was revealed that they would be without their star forward Brice Sensabaugh. The freshman’s 16.3 average points per game in the regular season led the team.
Ohio State was dominant despite missing that key piece of the team. Defensively, OSU put the clamps on for all 40 minutes, clogging up the lanes and slowing the Spartans’ typically-quick transition offense. Multiple MSU possessions slowed to a crawl, eventually ending in some contested shot or a last-ditch drive at the net.
The Buckeyes were just as impressive on offense. They made circus shots all afternoon, nailing contested threes and finishing tough drives at the rim. Each time Michigan State seemed to crawl its way back into the game, Ohio State answered.
“You’ve got to give them credit, they hit some incredible shots,” Izzo said. “We just couldn’t buy some.”
However, not all of the loss was a result of a great showing from Ohio State. Michigan State had low energy and little drive from start to finish, save for a few scoring runs here and there.
“I just thought from the head down our energy wasn’t there. It wasn’t fatigue,” Izzo said. “It’s one of the more disappointing days because I thought we had a legitimate chance to maybe win this thing.”
The defensive effort was certainly an issue, but the failures on offense were strikingly especially hard to watch considering Michigan State’s recent stretch of play.
MSU capped off the last five games of the regular season averaging 84.4 points per game, 13.8 points higher than its season average. Senior guard Tyson Walker and graduate student forward Joey Hauser led the charge, averaging 19.8 and 16.8 points per game in their last five, respectively.
After a season full of mostly poor offensive flow, it seemed as though a switch had been flipped for Michigan State. The ball movement was quick and crisp, and more importantly, the shooters were hot. Multiple players began notching double-digits on a nightly basis; it wasn’t just the Hauser and Walker show.
Then, the Spartans scored less than 60 points in their first and only game of the tournament. While Walker and Hauser combined for 25 points, the duo took only 14 shots. MSU’s two most productive offensive weapons just couldn’t find many open looks.
“We didn’t move the ball well, we didn’t at all,” Walker said. “We didn’t move off the ball, we didn’t screen well and then they got into us and started making shots.
Michigan State finished with less than 10 assists on the night, with its point guard, junior A.J. Hoggard, notching just two. On the season, the Spartans earn an average of 14.8 assists per game. Ball movement was an essential piece of Michigan State’s improved offense at the end of the season and it just didn’t show up against Ohio State. Running the offense, Hoggard couldn’t find many open teammates and scored just 10 points.
“The point is a key guy,” Izzo said. “They’ve got to put pressure on the ball, and we didn’t.”
MSU finished with a 38% shooting percentage from the field and 19% from beyond the arch. A grand departure from the hot shooting of late. That poor three-point shooting percentage was especially brutal, considering the Spartans have shot 39.6% from beyond the arc this season, the best percentage in the Big Ten.
Michigan State has found a way to win with paltry offensive showings before this season, thanks to great defensive efforts. That effort was absent against Ohio State.
The quick exit from the conference tournament is sure to leave a sour taste in the mouth of a team that appeared to be rounding into form at the end of the regular season. Now, it’s officially one-and-done season for MSU after the tournament loss - onto the NCAA Tournament. If Michigan State wants to play more than one game in March, it’ll have to learn its lesson from the Big Ten Tourney and find that balance its been striving for all season.
“It’s March and it’s basically a different season now,” Walker said. “Things change, so you’ve got to just play basketball the best you can, play as hard as you can. You can’t go off their stats from months ago, because people get better, teams get better, and today they showed up.