Ohio State Gets off to Fast Start, Rolls Past Sparty

Coming off the first back to back losses of the season, Ohio State came out firing and didn’t let up, cruising to a 80-69 victory over visiting Michigan State. Playing a season high 33 minutes, Joey Brunk playing for injured Zed Key and Kyle Young, came up big for the Buckeyes, scoring 18 big points and pulling down 6 rebounds to key the victory. The win improved Ohio State to 19-9 and 12-7 in conference play, while Michigan State dropped to 19-11 and 10-9 in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes took advantage of Brunk’s big game to outscore Michigan State 36-18 in the paint and utilized smothering half court defense to outscore the Spartans 20-3 off turnovers. Malaki Branham paced Ohio State with a game high 22, while E.J. Liddell added 19 points and 8 rebounds and in addition to Brunk’s 18, Wheeler tied his season high with 16. Gabe Brown led Michigan State with 13, while Marcus Bingham Jr added 11. 

The Buckeyes came out roaring. A pair of E.J. Liddell triples and a 12 foot fade away along with a Malaki Branham triple had the Buckeyes up 11-0 just over 2 minutes into the game forcing Tom Izzo and the Spartans to call timeout. A Gene Brown floater mid lane had the Buckeyes up 13 before the Spartans finally got on the board, getting away with steps before scoring in the lane. Back came the Buckeyes. Jamari Wheeler answered with a three from the top and back to back Michigan State buckets sandwiched around a Joey Brunk hook from the right baseline had Ohio State ahead 18-6 at the first media timeout. A Spartan triple cut the lead to 9, but the Buckeyes answered with a Wheeler three from the right point. After a Spartan hoop and a free throw by Liddell, the game hit the under 12 media timeout with the Buckeyes doubling up Michigan State 22-11. A pair of Michigan State freebies and a triple cut the lead to 6, but a Brunk score off the bounce ended the Spartan spurt and the Buckeyes were up 8. Four straight Spartan points trimmed the lead to 4, but a Liddell triple ended that run and the Buckeyes were up 7. 5 more Spartan points forced Chris Holtmann to call timeout as the once 13 point lead was now cut to just 2 with 8:09 left in the half. A Brunk jump hook in the middle of the lane and a pair of Brunk free throws had the Buckeyes up 6. Ohio State increased the lead when Branham tipped in a Brunk miss and it went to 11 when Wheeler drilled a three from the right point. A rebound and put back by the Spartans cut into the lead, but another Wheeler triple answered and the Buckeyes were up 12. Michigan State hit a three of their own on the other end to answer, but a Branham score on a dribble drive put Ohio State up 11 and at the final media timeout of the first half, Ohio State enjoyed a 41-30 lead with 2:29 remaining. A Spartan triple cut the lead to 8, but a Brunk baseline jump hook dropped to answer and at the half, Ohio State owned a 43-33 lead. The Buckeyes shot a red-hot 59% from the floor, including 8 of 13 from long range, while holding Michigan State to just 40%, but did hit 6 of their 12 triples to stay somewhat close. The Buckeyes were led by Jamari Wheeler and E.J. Liddell, who scored 12 each and Joey Brunk added 10, while Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham Jr led Michigan State with 8 apiece.

Four quick Buckeye points by Liddell and Branham ballooned the lead to 14, but four straight Spartan points cut it back to 10. An old-fashioned three point play by Brunk increased the lead to 13, but a corner three dropped for Michigan State cut it back to 10. Branham put the ball on the deck and elevated from 10 for a score and after a Spartan turnover, Brunk split a pair of free throws to increase the lead to 13 and at the under 16 media break, Ohio State was on top 53-40. A reverse lay-in by Branham off the bounce increased the lead, but a Spartan triple cut into that lead. Cedric Russell answered with a corner three of his own but a floater in the lane by the Spartans trimmed the lead to 13. Brunk spun along the baseline and scored with a reverse lay-in to increase the lead but again a Spartan bucket cut into the lead and at the under 12, Ohio State led 60-47. Wheeler scored on a finger roll off the bounce to increase the lead to 15. A Spartan 4-0 run was stopped when Liddell knocked down a pair of free throws and at the under 8 timeout, Ohio State led 64-51. Branham scored on a finger roll after getting to the rim off the bounce, but a 5-0 Spartan run cut it back to 10. Branham split a pair of free throws to end the Spartan spurt and a Branham leaner in the lane put the Buckeyes back up 13. Two Michigan State free throws cut back into the lead, but a Liddell old-fashioned three point play put the Buckeyes up 14 with just over 4 minutes to play. After a Spartan hoop cut it to 12, Branham got to the rim and flushed it with authority bringing the house down and Michigan State called timeout with 3:53 to go and Ohio State leading 74-60. Michigan State hit 2 of 4 free throws before Branham found Brunk mid lane for a dunk and Ohio State was firmly in control with just under 2 minutes remaining. Two more Spartan free throws were followed by two from Branham and an old-fashioned three point play by Michigan State cut the lead to 11 but with just over a minute to play. A backcourt foul sent Wheeler to the stripe where he bagged both to put the Buckeyes up 13 and after a Brown block on the other end, the Spartans were content to let the clock run down. After a Buckeye miss, the Spartans scored at the rim to complete the scoring in Ohio State’s fourth straight home win over Michigan State. 

As much as we were down on the Buckeyes after two lackluster performances, we have to credit their effort on this night. They played with the necessary force and energy on the defensive end, attacked the paint on the offensive end, opening up the perimeter for open looks and all in all looked like a different basketball team. There may just be some life left in that locker room yet. Playing extremely short handed, coach Holtmann always says be ready when your number is called and tonight they got that and more from Joey Brunk. He showed that he may be very valuable in the postseason for this basketball team and in the post game interview, Coach Holtmann choked up discussing all the young man has been through in his life thus far and showed genuine happiness for him, especially praising his maturity. Brunk not only did it on the offensive end, but his effort defensively in the paint was outstanding. Branham and Liddell continue to pace this group, but when you get contributions from other guys like they did tonight from not only Brunk but Jamari Wheeler as well, Ohio State can compete with anyone.  The key will be consistency of effort. They will need to bring the same level of intensity on Sunday as they honor the contributions of the seniors, playing in their final game at the Schottenstein Center. There is hope that Key and Young will return for that game and let’s hope Kyle especially returns, because after all he’s done for this program, hopefully he gets to leave the floor for the final time as a contributor. 

The Buckeyes will finish the regular season at home on Sunday afternoon, hosting Michigan in the Schott. Tip time for that game is scheduled for 12:30 and airing on CBS

-Jason Harris

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