"There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time."
Similar words should be plastered all over the Ohio State Buckeyes locker room in the wake of Tuesday night's 72-68 loss to their Big Ten Conference foe Michigan State Spartans. The Buckeyes' frantic second-half rally pushed the game to overtime, but MSU had more left in the tank.
OSU's first defeat of the year left a more sour taste than usual in the mouth of coach Thad Matta.
"Yeah, I’m proud we came back, but we weren't as sharp as we needed to be to start the game," Matta said to the Toledo Blade's David Briggs. "We can't come on the road and have 21 turnovers. We had shots to win the game."
Neither coach was terribly happy after the game, with Michigan State's Tom Izzo fuming over the late-game collapse, and Matta concerned that a wild comeback was needed at all.
As the man said, however, the loss carries multiple learning tips for the Buckeyes as they load up for the remainder of the Big Ten schedule.
Those 21 turnovers that Matta alluded to were by far a season high for Ohio State. The vast majority—17, already breaking the previous high against Morgan State—came in the game's first 32 minutes, helping stake Sparty to that 55-38 lead. From there, the Buckeye mistakes slowed to a trickle as if someone had found the valve to turn off a flooding pipe.
Those final eight minutes looked more like Ohio State basketball as practiced during the first two months of this season. Unfortunately, the Buckeyes made themselves the kid who misses the bus, hitches a ride to school and slides into his seat with 10 minutes left to finish an exam.
Arriving 32 minutes late is better than never showing up. Ask anyone who watched leading scorers LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith Jr. struggle through indifferent evenings. The two combined for 12 points on 4-of-18 shooting in a mere 49 total minutes. Neither was in foul trouble.
Point guard Aaron Craft put the unbeaten string and lofty national ranking—attained on the back of a somewhat soft non-league schedule—in perspective.
“This doesn’t happen to a good team,” Craft told Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “As much as we like to think we’ve been together and been in the battles, we haven’t done it with this team. It goes to show we really haven’t done much this year.”
Ross seemed particularly overexcited by the magnitude of the stage. Several chances to attack the Spartan defense were missed as Ross bobbled passes near the three-point arc. A man who reached national prominence by playing in superb rhythm in last March's NCAA tournament was trying to start every move too soon in a Big Ten game in early January.
Showing up late doomed the Buckeyes. Moving too early kept Ross off balance. The Buckeyes are surely fighting to find their rhythm in practice as we speak.
Comebacks Are Hard
With respect to the script for the original Rocky, it's comebacks, not women, that weaken legs in basketball. The Buckeyes' rally to defeat Notre Dame was more frantic than the effort against Michigan State, and OSU finished it in regulation. This one needed something extra.
StatSheet.com lists 134 overtime games on the season for games through January 8. Twenty-nine of those featured one team rallying from a double-digit deficit in the final 10 minutes of regulation.
Overall, the team that needed to make the comeback lost 17 of the 29 games. Of the seven teams that came back from 13 or more, however, the Buckeyes are only the second to lose:
|Dec. 14||Penn State||Princeton||20 in 8:29||Princeton 81-79|
|Jan. 7||Michigan State||Ohio State||17 in 7:05||Michigan St. 72-68|
|Nov. 20||Southern||Ark.-Little Rock||14 in 1:16||UALR 85-82|
|Nov. 19||Butler||Vanderbilt||14 in 7:22||Butler 85-77|
|Jan. 2||Navy||Loyola (Md.)||13 in 5:16||Loyola 63-57|
|Nov. 9||FIU||Youngstown St.||13 in 7:18||YSU 74-72|
|Nov. 20||Northwestern St.||La.-Monroe||13 in 8:06||ULM 84-80|
We're frequently told by commentators that closing a deficit expends a lot of a team's energy, and the numbers appear to bear that out. It's easy to say from our vantage points, but the best way to conserve the juice to climb out is to not fall in the hole to begin with.
Coming into the game, OSU had held its opponents to a superb 7.4 transition points per game. No one was beating the Buckeyes down the court off a rebound or a turnover.
Michigan State was third in the nation at 24.3 transition points per game according to ESPN's Ryan Feldman.
The irresistible force crushed the immovable object in this game, as the Associated Press' recap via ESPN showed Sparty with 20 points on the break, compared to eight for OSU. Keith Appling had eight by himself.
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OSU has to remind itself that the Big Ten is a different level from opponents like Wyoming and North Dakota State. Craft's postgame comments followed that vein.
“The Big Ten is a whole other animal,” Craft told the Plain Dealer. “You can’t come in lackadaisical or come in not connected or things like this happen."
Better work from Ross and Smith will be essential. Transition defense must return to the level it occupied during the non-conference schedule. Six-turnover games from Shannon Scott can't become a habit.
Most importantly, everybody needs to set their inner alarm clock and make sure the first 32 minutes of future games look more like the final eight minutes of this one.
For more from Scott on college basketball, check out The Back Iron.