Rapp Around: Buckeyes Snare Program-Raising Win

By Jeff Rapp, January 7th, 2018

So let’s get ahead of everything now that Ohio State has stunned No. 1 Michigan State, 80-64, at the Schottenstein Center on Sunday before we peel back and look at its true meaning.

First of all, the Buckeyes’ world just changed and there is now a seismic shift in the program.

No, the victory – which improved OSU to 13-4 overall and 4-0 in the Big Ten – didn’t guarantee anything. It doesn’t mean that the Buckeyes are a surety to make the NCAA Tournament or actually contend for the league title.

“We could go in the tank here in the next couple weeks,” OSU first-year coach Chris Holtmann said during a lengthy and realistic postgame press conference. “We certainly don’t want it to define us and we don’t want it to be the pinnacle of the season.”

However, the perception of OSU basketball just changed. The Buckeyes are now a team that is good enough to knock off a legitimate college basketball superpower and perhaps hover in the upper half of the Big Ten standings all season.

Plus, the Buckeyes are now going to be a discussion point when the bracketologists and prognosticators try to handicap the Big Ten race and Big Dance dance card.

And, gulp, get ready to see a number next to the words “Ohio State” this week when voters realize they have no “bad losses” and several quality wins including a gargantuan one vs. the Green and White.

“They can view us the same way they did from the start,” senior forward Jae’Sean Tate said after the win. “We’re fine with that.”

Tate was solid on both ends against a much bigger MSU front line.

Only that’s not what is going to happen. The Buckeyes no longer have the luxury of sneaking up on anyone. Not only did they slay Goliath, they also are at the top of the league standings. That means rocks are about to be slung back at them.

The Spartans now know that too well. They had a target that accompanied their top ranking.

“As (MSU assistant coach) Dwayne Stephens said (to the team),” head coach Tom Izzo said, “welcome to being good. This is what’s going to happen every night – and it’s going to happen to Ohio State as well.”

The Buckeyes just found the edge of the spotlight. They only have one other game currently scheduled to be broadcast on CBS as Sunday’s game was, but a couple that were more likely to air on ESPN2 now may find their way to ESPN beginning with Thursday’s tilt with Maryland.

Holtmann became the first OSU coach ever to start his tenure 3-0 in league play and the Buckeyes just added a giant leap to that accomplishment.

And the defeat of the deep and highly talented Spartans (15-2, 3-1) was thorough. The Buckeyes shot 52.5 percent from the field to Sparty’s 39.0. They made as many three-pointers while taking 10 fewer shots. They made as many free throws and hung on the boards with one of the best rebounding teams in America.

Any maybe most impressive of all, the Buckeyes, a team with serious ball handling deficiencies at times this year, committed just six turnovers with nary a player registering more than one. That was compared to 15 assists. MSU, meanwhile, had 13 assists and 12 turnovers.

Also, the Buckeyes may be plucky overachievers to this point – even Holtmann has admitted that he is pleasantly surprised with the results so far – but they won’t stay in that role forever. Tate, when healthy, is a headache for opposing teams because of his unorthodox play and aggression. At the same time, Keita Bates-Diop is finding stardom.

The 6-7 redshirt junior was hurt for most of last season but looks very much like a first-team All-Big Ten performer at the moment. Against Michigan State, he calmly amassed 32 points, seven rebounds and three steals. He also was a big reason why freshman big man Jaren Jackson fouled out.

OSU’s freshman center, Kaleb Wesson, played a fine all-around game with eight points, four rebounds and five assists. His counterpart, fellow central Ohio product Nick Ward, managed just one field-goal attempt and finished with three points, 10 rebounds, three fouls and three turnovers.

Miles Bridges scored 17 points for the visitors but was just 7 of 19 from the floor and struggled when guarded by Tate, who was a tidy 4 of 7 from the field at the other end.

Bridges looked stunned after the Spartans suffered just their second loss of the season.

“They’ve got some juniors who are damn good,” Izzo said. Of KBD, he added, “I think what I like about him most is his midrange game is the best part of his game and not many guys are like that.”

OSU point guard C.J. Jackson continued to show poise beyond his experience with 14 points, six rebounds, three assists and no turnovers. All of fellow guard Kam Williams’ 10 points and four field goals were meaningful, especially his vicious slam to open the second half after the Buckeyes had seized a 41-29 halftime lead.

That cushion came compliments of a 12-0 run to close the first half that Holtmann said was a near-perfect combination of defense, hustle and execution. The Buckeyes also had an 11-0 run after the Spartans grabbed an early 11-4 lead, a statement that this game would be no picnic for Izzo’s crew.

By the way, Izzo made no excuses as he sometimes does after losses. He blamed himself for receiving a technical foul during the late first-half barrage, which ended with backup point guard Andrew Dakich banking in a 30-foot three.

He also insisted the Buckeyes be referred to as a good team.

“Don’t go searching now,” he said. We’re 15-2.

“I questioned how we’d handle the ranking and all the (hype)
surrounding it. We handled it well in how we practiced. We just didn’t play well.”

The Buckeyes wouldn’t commit to labeling the win as program changing but Bates-Diop said, “It does show we’re on the right track.”

That may be an understatement, because the best part of it was that it is now a living, breathing example of what the Buckeyes can accomplish when they heed the advice of the coaches and execute on all areas.

They got back on defense, which is rule No. 1 against Sparty. They defended shots. They took care of the ball, cut hard, helped on defense, dived on the floor for loose balls.

The crowd of 17,599 loved every bit of it, especially those that had bothered to come to The Schott in recent years and see their team struggle with regularity and be washed away from the Big Ten chase.

“One of the reasons you get into coaching is to see your older guys embrace a moment like that,” Holtmann said. “It was so rewarding to see those guys celebrate and enjoy the moment.

“This is a moment our fans and our players will remember for a long time.”

The Schott rocked from the get-go.