CHICAGO – Once again, Tom Izzo had some words for Chris Holtman. Or, more specifically, to those who criticized the Ohio State men’s basketball coach during a difficult season that ended on a topsy-turvy note.
On Friday afternoon, the Buckeyes became the second two-digit seed to advance to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament and the first team to play on a Wednesday to reach the weekend. With a 68–58 win against No. 4 seed Michigan State. No. 13 seed Ohio State has 14 losses in 15 games but has now won five of its last six with No. 1 seed Purdue heading into Saturday’s game.
Spartans are depicted in each of those streaks. Their win on Senior Day is Ohio State’s only loss during the past six games., and their 21-point win at Columbus on February 12 was the lowest-scoring game for the Buckeyes in 27 years. After that game, following a 62–41 Michigan State victory, Izzo raised a question about reasonable expectations for Ohio State fans when it comes to their men’s basketball coach.
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The exchange was clearly still on Izzo’s mind after Ohio State’s quarterfinal win.
“I know what it’s like in Columbus,” Izzo said. “It’s not as bad in basketball as it is in football, but I know how it is. They had some injuries in the beginning. Then they had new guys. And then they had to deal with new guys on one side, in the middle. Transfers, on the other hand from the superiors.
“I think the biggest thing they did was not this tournament: the biggest thing they did was save them for the last five games of the regular season, even if they lost.”
This late surge is becoming an annual talking point after each Ohio State victory. Overall, players have talked about “playing the right way” and doing things like relying on the extra pass, paying attention to details, and playing smart as they rotate their seasons. It’s too little likely, too late as far as post season goes (Although athletic director Gene Smith has publicly made his case for an NIT invitation), but it was a reminder of the level of talent that has been in this locker room all season.
Despite the loss, Ohio State remained two wins shy of an NCAA Tournament berth, with an auto-bid that comes with capturing a conference tournament championship.
“We knew what we were capable of this whole year,” said sixth year forward and captain Justice Sueing. He said, ‘Like every team, we also had our struggles, but our struggles are a little more. These are the guys I’m running with, man, so I’m looking forward to tip-off tomorrow afternoon. Yeah, I think we’re going to be ready for that.
Holtmann has repeatedly discussed his efforts to help the Buckeyes get off the edge of the season, and on Friday he shed more light on what that process was like.
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“I questioned everything,” he said. “I questioned whether I was too hard on him at times. I questioned whether I wasn’t hard enough on him at times, too emotional. When you go through a stretch like this, you’re not sleeping Are. You’re not eating. You’re in a bad place, so you question everything. If I was meeting him I certainly would have.
Looks like those questions have now been answered.
Ohio State makes offensive adjustments against Michigan State
The first game between these teams was a historically poor one for Ohio State, which needed a late 3-pointer to reach 14 points at halftime. limping to 41 points, the Buckeyes finished with an adjusted offensive efficiency rating of 70.4, their second lowest in the KenPom.com era that dates back to the 2001–02 season.
In order of poor offensive performance, this was the worst. But in the rematch at Michigan State last Saturday, the Buckeyes finished with an adjusted offensive efficiency rating of 120.7, their second-highest loss this season. On Friday, Ohio State finished at 113.1 points per 100 possessions, but won by double figures by holding Michigan State to an adjusted offensive efficiency rating of 96.5.
So yeah, the defense was better. But the Buckeyes found ways to attack the Spartans that were different from what they tried in the first meeting, and Holtman took the blame for what went wrong in that game at Value City Arena.
Holtmann said, “They were pretty good at our spot defensively, and to be honest with you, I don’t think I had a very good plan of attack against them.” “I don’t think I had a very good offensive attack against their defense. They can be very stifling with how much gap up they have. So we made some adjustments in game two, and we made some shots.
“So I think it was a combination that I didn’t like our attack in the first game, and listen, like I said, we’ve been playing more correctly from that point on. It was probably the low point. As in season.
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Michigan State’s Jaden Atkins said: “I would really just say that we were leaving a lot of driving lanes, and we were putting in tough situations because they were confident from three today. So you didn’t know when they were driving.” When you were driving, you wanted to help or try to stop the ball. It caused rotation and he had to go for shots.”
Bruce Thornton continues to strengthen Big Ten Tournament
A freshman captain who went through a significant dry spell that coincided with Ohio State’s long losing streak, Thornton led Ohio State with 21 points on 8 of 17 shooting.
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It marked his seventh straight game in double digits, raising his season scoring average to 10.7 points. In the tournament, it has been more: Thornton averaged 17.7 points while shooting 52.4% (22 for 42) from the floor and played nearly 35 minutes per game.
He also has six assists with zero turnovers in each of the last two games.
Ohio State–Michigan State by the numbers
* It is the first time the Spartans have lost their opening tournament game as a top four seed since 2010, when No. 6 Minnesota upset No. 3 seed Michigan State.
* In two losses to Michigan State earlier this season, Ohio State led a combined 5:38. Friday, the Buckeyes led 33:24.
*Ohio State has never won four games in the Big Ten Tournament. The Buckeyes won three in 2021 but lost to Illinois in overtime of the championship game.
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This article was originally published on the Columbus Dispatch: Tom Izzo: Credit for Ohio State’s late surge goes to Chris Holtman