The strength of a quality team is its ability to overcome a poor performance and still win.
No. 13 Ohio State did that in its most recent outing and will carry a stretch of five wins in six games into a matchup with struggling Michigan State on Sunday.
The Buckeyes (13-4, 7-4 Big Ten) defeated Penn State 83-79 on Wednesday despite committing a season-high 17 turnovers, trailing by eight points with eight minutes left and having their two senior leaders foul out down the stretch.
Yet there was a sense of accomplishment when E.J. Liddell made four free throws in the final minute after the score was tied at 79.
“It’s hard to win in the (Big) Ten. It’s hard to win, period,” Ohio State forward Justice Sueing said. “We celebrate every win regardless if it’s by a couple points or 20 or 30. We always are looking to improve, but as long as we come out with the win, coach is happy, we’re happy.”
Michigan State (8-5, 2-5) has found nothing to celebrate of late.
The Spartans were routed 67-37 at Rutgers on Thursday in their first game since Jan. 8. COVID-19 issues in the Michigan State program forced the postponement of three games, and wing Gabe Brown and guard Davis Smith were unavailable against the Scarlet Knights.
“I’m sure we have a little COVID hangover, I understand that, but that will not be an excuse for the way we played,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “That would be a good excuse for losing a game, but not the way we played.”
The Spartans, like the Buckeyes, had trouble taking care of the ball. Michigan State committed 21 turnovers vs. Rutgers.
“We won’t play like this again, as far as turning the ball over, I promise you that,” Izzo said. “Those are the frustrating things that frustrate fans, frustrate coaches, frustrate players. But I’m trying to keep it all in perspective a little bit. This was a wicked 20 days; some people adjust to it. It just depends on who your personnel is.”
Ohio State is confident it can win without being at its best. The Buckeyes missed open shots against Penn State, struggled with the Nittany Lions’ pressure, and Kyle Young and CJ Walker got their fifth fouls in the waning moments.
The Buckeyes turned to Sueing and Liddell with the game in the balance.
“I think we’ve got multiple guys who can step up,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “We’ve got some depth behind some guys. They’ve proven that.”
Holtmann is wary of his players noting the Michigan State score from Thursday and thinking the “W” is a lock.
“They know the caliber of team that Michigan State is and (the Spartans are) not going to struggle the whole year,” he said. “They’re too good. They’re too well-coached. They’re too talented. There’s no question in my mind (Michigan State) will be (an NCAA) tournament team.”
If the Spartans are going to get there, they’ll need an attitude adjustment, forward Aaron Henry said.
“It’s our mental approach, and honestly it starts with me,” he said. “The intensity and the intangible things just weren’t there.”
–Field Level Media