Fourth-ranked Ohio State looks to return to its winning ways at resurgent Michigan State on Thursday.
The Buckeyes (18-5, 12-5 Big Ten) had their seven-game winning streak end with a 92-87 home loss to No. 3 Michigan on Sunday, but with 10 wins in the past 12 games they are still projected to be a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament.
“We know what we’re capable of and what our plan is to do here,” Ohio State guard Duane Washington Jr. said.
Michigan State (12-9, 6-9) also knows what it must do: win. The Spartans served notice Tuesday that they are intent on making the NCAA field for a 23rd straight season when defeated visiting No. 5 Illinois 81-72 for their second win in a row.
“We have a long way to go yet, we all know that,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “It’s a tough task ahead with another game against Ohio State, which has been off since Sunday, but at the same time, I keep saying — great opportunities.”
Early season struggles caused in part by positive COVID-19 tests among five players have made for a long season for the perennial conference frontrunner, and the Spartans are facing the prospect of not making the NCAA Tournament outside of winning the Big Ten tourney if they don’t add numbers to the win column.
Defeating the Buckeyes would make a statement in the competitive conference.
“It’s another opportunity,” Spartans forward Aaron Henry said after the Illinois game. “We won a game here and we’re on to the next, one day at a time. … It’s always good to come along. It’s never too late. But man, tonight it was Spartan basketball.
“I’m kind of just frustrated that we haven’t been playing with this all year, honestly. And it’s tough to look at it like that, but damn, we played good tonight.”
The Buckeyes defeated the visiting Spartans 79-62 on Jan. 31, but the Spartans are healthier now and have forward Gabe Brown back in the lineup after he missed the first meeting due to a positive COVID-19 test.
After Michigan made 10 of 13 3-pointers in the first half against the Buckeyes and 53.4 percent from the floor overall for the game, Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann knows what the game plan will be to defend against the Spartans, who hit 54.2 percent of their shots against Illinois.
“Great urgency in the first six (or) seven seconds of the clock is going to be critical,” he said on his radio show Monday. “Great urgency to sprint back and build walls and also not foul them.
“They’re playing now with a little bit better of an offensive lineup because Gabe Brown is back for them. Offensively they’re a little bit different than when we played them last time.”
The Buckeyes have not lost consecutive games this season, and Holtmann wants to continue that trend.
“My focus right now is just going to be on areas that we can improve and grow and get better,” he said. “There are things that we can do as coaches to put our guys in a little bit better positions defensively. That’s what I’m going to focus on.”
–Field Level Media