INDIANAPOLIS — It turns out the third time wasn’t the charm for the Ohio State men’s basketball team.
Michigan State had beaten the Buckeyes two times within the last two weeks, and on Friday in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, it completed the trifecta.
After staying within striking distance for the first 20 minutes, OSU (20-13, 11-7) faded as soon as the second half began, eventually falling to the second-seeded Spartans 81-54.
The Scarlet and Gray’s 54 points were a season low.
Leading the way for the seventh-seed Buckeyes was freshman point guard JaQuan Lyle with 10 points. Junior forward Marc Loving added nine points and six rebounds.
Senior guard Denzel Valentine paced the Spartans (27-5, 13-5) with 19 points, while adding nine boards and eight assists.
“He just makes that team go,” said OSU coach Thad Matta of Valentine. “He does so many things … hats off to him.”
Like much of the regular season, OSU was plagued by turnovers, as it finished with 14 giveaways, which led to 21 points for Michigan State.
The Buckeyes showed flashes at times, but the talent of the Spartans was just too much for them to overcome.
“I think that team right there is one of the best I’ve seen,” Matta said.
The Spartans’ offense was effective early on, using a combination of low-post play, outside shooting and transition game to sprint out to an early 14-7 lead through the opening five and a half minutes.
OSU was mixing up its shot selection, too, but unlike Michigan State, a lot of its early looks wouldn’t fall. Although the Buckeyes had the length advantage, it seemed that every time a player went to the rim, whether it was junior forward Marc Loving or freshman guard JaQuan Lyle, a Spartan was there to contest it.
Sophomore forward Keita Bates-Diop said that there is no excuse for missing inside shots in such a make-or-break game.
“It’s something where you’ve just got to finish, honestly,” he said. “Me, everybody else that got in the paint … we’ve made those shots pretty much all season.”
Through the opening eight and a half minutes, the Buckeyes shot just 3-of-10 from the floor, whereas the Spartans posted a 6-of-11 clip, half of which were successful 3-pointers.
Effort level was not the issue from the outset for OSU. The Buckeyes were matching the Spartans in intensity, but the same couldn’t be said about their execution.
Matta said some of the mistakes OSU made were reminiscent of those from November when his young team was still learning to play together.
The two teams leveled off a little bit from there, as baskets were traded to keep the Buckeyes’ deficit hovering near double digits.
But, sensing his team’s dire need for offense, Lyle began looking for his shot as the clocked ticked near the 8:00 mark. The freshman guard connected on back-to-back field goals to make the game 25-19.
After a nearly two-minute dry spell from both teams, a tip-in from freshman forward Deyonta Davis and four straight points from Valentine bumped the Spartans’ lead to 11 points, the largest of the first half.
But instead of letting Michigan State separate further, Thompson and freshman guard A.J. Harris were able to score the half’s final four points, sending the Buckeyes into the locker room trailing 33-26.
Lyle led OSU with seven points and three rebounds in the first half, while Loving added five points and three boards. As a team, the Buckeyes actually shot a higher percentage than the Spartans, 40.7 to 35.5 percent.
OSU’s seven-point hole boiled down to its six turnovers, which translated into seven points for Michigan State, and its failure to connect from 3-point territory. The Spartans, by contrast, didn’t shoot a high percentage — 28.6, to be exact — but they were able net four triples, which helped keep them out front.
Matta said part of the problem with the lack of 3-point shooting from the Buckeyes stemmed from the lack of spacing. With OSU not being able to make the Spartan zone collapse, shooters were left with contested looks. For the game, OSU made just one triple and it came with just over a minute left in the game from Lyle.
In the two regular-season meetings, the Buckeyes were able to hold it close through the first 20 minutes, only to be outplayed in the second stanza.
Players said after defeating Penn State they were hoping to buck that trend Friday.
The Spartans came out of the gates blazing hot, scoring the half’s first eight points in less than two minutes.
“I thought we were in pretty decent shape (to start the second period),” Matta said.
But before anyone could blink, Michigan State was up 41-26 and Matta was forced to call a timeout amid blistering applause from the green-and-white faithful.
Whatever the coach preached in the huddle didn’t make a difference.
The Spartans continued to pull away from the Buckeyes, powered by three rim-rattling dunks and a long 2-pointer from Valentine.
Bates-Diop said OSU’s turnovers translating into transition opportunities allowed the Spartans to get cooking early in the second half.
“They just kept going and going, and we couldn’t stop it,” he said.
At the 13:57 mark, OSU trailed 51-32, prompting Matta to burn another timeout to try and right the ship.
The Buckeyes’ energy level spiked, and they were able to stop the vessel from veering too far of course on offense. The problem, however, came defensively.
OSU struggled mightily to get a stop, even as its bench provided a nine-point scoring spark.
Michigan State had a stretch where it connected on 10-of-11 field goals, which helped keep its lead hovering near the 20-point mark.
Whether it was senior guard Bryn Forbes connecting from 3-point territory or post play from senior Matt Costello and junior Gavin Schilling, the Buckeyes couldn’t find a way to keep the Spartans from scoring.
By the time there were four minutes remaining, OSU’s deficit had swelled to 26, the largest of the game. It stayed above 20 points all the way to the final horn.
The Spartans are set to continue their tournament run Saturday 25 minutes after the conclusion the first semifinal, which pairs Michigan versus third-seeded Purdue at 1 p.m. Michigan State is set to take on the the winner of Nebraska and Maryland.