March 9, 2008

Diagnosis Upgraded?

COLUMBUS - While it might be a little dramatic to liken Ohio State's 63-54 win over Michigan State (24-7, 12-6) to a patient getting a jolt of juice from a defibrillator but it is no stretch to say that what Thad Matta's team did on senior day goes a long way toward helping the Buckeye (19-12, 10-8) tournament resume. After trailing most of the way the Bucks went on a 15-2 run spurred on by a rejuvenated defensive effort and 20 points by Jamar Butler in his final home game to set up a rubber match on Friday in the Big Ten tournament.

It was Butler, Othello Hunter and Matt Terwilliger's last game in front of the home crowd and the three combined for 37 points but not all was rosy for the first 35 minutes of the game. Kosta Koufos was silent most of the way through the game but scored seven of his ten points in the final stretch. The senior class is now sitting at 100 wins as a class and it was a very happy post game locker room.

"I am happy today," Butler said. "We knew coming into this game we needed this win and I think we stepped up and played well and got the win and we turn right around and play them again."

While the team has been playing for its post-season life there was still the task of getting the big win for the departing players. Coming into Sunday Matta had never lost a regular season finale while at Ohio State and the record stretched out to a perfect 4-0.

"It was real important and coach even talked about it a little bit before the game," guard David Lighty said. "We had to go out and get this 100th win for the seniors. It was something special for us to go out there and just try and get them to the most winning class in Ohio State history."

Ohio State trailed by as many as 12 points through the game but tough defense gave the Spartans fits but so did a foul disparity of 18 team fouls (MSU) to eight (OSU). Overall Michigan State was unhappy with how this turned out, understandably so with a ten point lead and 12 minutes to go in the game.

"I don't know if I am more disappointed in myself, my team, the officiating, the whole thing was frustrating to me," Izzo said. "We didn't do the job and give them credit they did."

Michigan State got up early on the Buckeyes with Drew Neitzel picking up the first six points for the Spartans but then was unheard from the rest of the way going 0-7 from the field the rest of the way. Chris Allen popped off three first half three-pointers and Raymar Morgan led the Spartans with 19 points but that was about it for stat book headliners.

"I though (Raymar) Morgan played an incredible game and I just couldn't keep him on the floor long enough," Izzo said. "I thought Chris Allen played very and after that you are going to have to go far to find a pulse and that is disappointing because this is a good team and we played a good team. We had them down ten and then the fouling got out of hand and we couldn't do anything after that."

Hardly the kind of words you would expect from a team that led for 35 minutes of the game but when the shift in momentum is so great it energized a less than full (because of the weather) Value City Arena and the team fed off that energy. This team has had to create its own luck, were they successful on Sunday?

"I think that has been the theme around here of 'we have to bring it,'" Matta said. "I think the last two games here the crowd got feeding off of our energy and we got feeding off their energy and it is just a perfect combination for our guys."

Ohio State shot 57-percent in the second half and the poor free throw shooting Buckeyes converted 12-18 down the stretch. The question that has to be asked of where this team was all season?

"That is a great question (laugh)," Butler said. "I don't know but just to get a win like this and I know it is late in the season but for us to start playing like this now, we will take it. We know we need a few more key wins but hopefully we can get in the tournament."

Ohio State's defense let the Spartans frustrated with MSU only making one field goal during the final 5:51 and guilty of several shot clock violations down the stretch. But the charge started around the ten minute mark when the team buckled down after a time out.

"Just talked about there being a lot of time left in the game and keep fighting and just have to chip away at the lead and take each war at a time," Butler said. "I think we did a great job of that."

But the team knew that it was would start with the defense and that the offense would come from there.

"I think the defense toward the game and in the last six minutes of the game they didn't score a field goal," Butler said. "I think that it was our defense that stepped up and played great and it was some big rebounds and we got the win."

The exclamation point of the game came on a one-handed follow dunk by Hunter who sealed the home portion of his two-year JUCO transfer career. Matta was impressed with his forward's output even if he did not get out of the blocks well.

"Othello got off to a slow start today," Matta said. "It didn't seem like he was in the flow of the game early on. Then he took advantage of his athleticism and length in the second half, and that put-back was one of the best plays I have seen in this building.

The humble Hunter didn't really remember too much about the play but took it all in stride.

"I can't tell you about the play really but I just know that coach was telling me to go to the boards," Hunter said. "I was going but they were stopping me every time but (that time) I was just open and I dunked it."

Now the Buckeyes have the week to prepare for the Spartans in the Big Ten tournament. It is always hard to beat a team twice in less than a week but the Buckeyes know what is at stake.

"They beat us the first time and we beat them this time," Butler said. "This is a grudge match so we know what they are going to do and they know what we are going to do so it just comes down to mental and physical toughness and that point. Whoever shows up ready to play is going to win the game."

It is hard to say if Ohio State has done enough to cement their resume yet but according to the Michigan State head coach the Buckeyes are tournament worthy.

"Do I think Ohio State is deserving of being in the tournament? Hands down," Izzo said. "The problem is our league gets so maligned by people, for what reason I don't know. I still say some of is maybe our fault, maybe we should be talking it up more but yeah I think Ohio State deserves to be in. If you beat two ranked teams down the stretch and you played one of the tougher schedules early. What about the schedule, that is supposed to be a big factor and they played one and so did we."

Matta has never been one to talk about the Big Dance but he is hopeful that his team will get to play on after the trip to Indy.

"I think they have done what they had to do and you knock off two top-18 teams," Matta said. "Two wins like I think that these guys are playing very good basketball right now and you hope that people remember what we started with and where we started and now how we are finishing and you hope that is taken into consideration."

Stat Leaders
Ohio State - Butler 20, Hunter 13, Lighty 12, Koufos 10
Michigan State - Morgan 19, Allen 9, Three tied at 6

Ohio State - Lighty 5, Hunter 4, Koufos 3
Michigan State - Suton 8, Gray 7, 2 tied at 6

Ohio State - Butler 4, Terwilliger 2, Hunter 2, Turner 2
Michigan State - Lucas 4, Neitzel 2, 6 Tied at 1

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