For anyone who has watched Ohio State this year, they have been something of an enigma.
They almost remind you of Dr. Henry Jekyll in the movie, Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. At times, it’s almost like watching a Lee Evans comedy performance in that you just don’t know what you are going to get. In one breath, they can look like a top ten team but in the very next, they can look like a team that doesn’t deserve to be ranked in the Top 25. And in Thursday night’s 54-53 upset of #10/8 Michigan State that's what most stood out about the Buckeyes.
“Again, if you’re not scoring you have to get stops,” said Ohio State coach Jim Foster. "That’s been the hardest thing to get through to this team. It’s almost poetic justice to win a game at this time of the year, at this phase of the year, in a place like this, having to do what we’ve told them all year long we have got to get better at.”
With so much on the line for both teams, it figured to be a battle of wills and a fight to the bitter end. For Michigan State, at stake was the Big Ten Championship and to go out a winner on senior night. And for Ohio State, besides credibility, they were playing for their NCAA tournament lives. So this game figured to be a battle of attrition.
From the outset in the first half, Ohio State played with the intensity and a focus that has been lacking in a lot of their games this season. Big Ten Pre-Season Player of the Year, Jantel Lavender established herself early by scoring the first four points of the game. And that seemed to galvanize the rest of her team for the first half as it helped Ohio State shoot 42% from the field while also shooting 50% from the three point line. And even though Michigan fought in the first half, they seemed to not be able to get over the hump as Ohio State went into the locker room with a four point lead.
The early momentum was clearly on their side.
“When she [Lavender] took her time she got great shots,” said Foster.
After halftime, it seemed as if Ohio State would pick up right where they left off and put together a complete game on both ends. But with Michigan State stepping up their intensity and Ohio State slightly losing the same killer will which enabled to gain the momentum, it seemed like the detrimental side of Ohio State showed up again. This allowed Michigan State back in the game even though they only shot 26% in the second half.
With 8:28 left in the second half, Ohio State scored its last field goal and Michigan State used this opportunity to claw back into the game. And even with Michigan State missing 7 layups in the second half, they still had an opportunity at the end of the game to pull out the win. But Ohio State’s Amber Stokes stepped up defensively on the last play to slow down Michigan State’s Jasmine Thomas from getting off an easy shot.
“[The coaches] told me to turn her as many times as I could and let the clock run out,” Amber Stokes said. “She kept dribbling and dribbling. She got that shot off, and I thought it was going to go in. But it came out.”
“We missed some free throws too, we missed 8 free throws and shot 55% there,” said Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant. “And had we made our free throws, we win this game.”
Even though Michigan State lost, they still were able to claim the Big Ten regular season championship as they found out after the game that Purdue had beaten Penn State.
“It’s pretty special, you don’t get one every single year, you don’t get this kind of chemistry,” said Merchant. “I think the one thing that I appreciate about this team is that their low maintenance kids and they just come to work everyday and you know when that happens, good things happen. Nobody can take away that we’re 2011 Big Ten champions.”
If Ohio State is going to go far in both their conference and the NCAA tournament, they are going to have to fix their inconsistency issues. The talent is clearly there, but the looming question is when will they put it all together?
1. 7 missed layups in the second half for Michigan State
2. Michigan State shot 55% from the free throw line while Ohio State shot 71%
MVP of the Night:
1. Jantel Lavender for Ohio State, 24 points, 9 rebounds
Top Performers for Ohio State:
1. Jantel Lavender (see above)
2. Ashley Adams, 9 points as well as her 6’5” presence inside
Top Performers for Michigan State:
1. Lykendra Johnson, 17 points, 10 rebounds
2. Cetera Washington, 8 points, 9 rebounds