Michigan State, No. 23 Ohio State searching for answers
With the conference tournament starting next week, Michigan State and host Ohio State will meet Thursday night in Columbus, Ohio, trying to gain confidence and wins.
No. 23 Ohio State (18-9, 11-7 Big Ten) seemed poised to make a run at the regular-season title, but a loss at Maryland on Sunday and a jarring 78-70 home loss to Nebraska on Tuesday -- teams that entered their games against the Buckeyes with a combined conference record of 7-28 -- spell trouble.
"I really can't point to anything specific," Buckeyes forward Justin Ahrens said. "We've just got to be better. Just didn't have it the past two games. Let teams score too easy. (To) finish the season, we've got to step up."
Michigan State (19-10, 10-8) lost 87-70 at Michigan on Tuesday for the Spartans' sixth loss in the past eight games.
"They played better than us, shot better than us, moved the ball better than us," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "We were supposed to double down in the post some after halftime; we didn't do it. The better team won tonight.
"That's been a storyline. I think the lack of leadership really disappoints me in our juniors and seniors."
In addition to sharing the misery of recent setbacks, the Buckeyes and Spartans are dealing with depleted rosters.
Ohio State was minus forward Zed Key against Nebraska due to an ankle injury, and fifth-year senior forward Kyle Young, the heart and soul of the team, left in the first half with an illness.
Their availability for Thursday is unknown.
"Obviously, those guys are two really important guys for us, two important guys in our front line," Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. "I don't want to minimize them being out, but at the same time we had enough to play better than we did."
Michigan State guard AJ Hoggard was limited to 11 minutes in the first half against the Wolverines, and Izzo said afterward Hoggard was dealing with strep throat.
Hoggard traveled with the team to Columbus, but Izzo said he isn't sure how many minutes he'll play.
"That's what we got doctors for. I don't know what they'll do," Izzo said. "We've all had strep throat, we've all had bad colds; they gotta take their course a little bit. We'll probably throw as many meds in him as we can. ... (He's a) big boy -- he'll handle it."
On Sunday, Ohio State will end the regular season at home against Michigan while Michigan State will finish by hosting Maryland.
Time is running out to correct mistakes before the postseason begins.
"We control this," Ohio State guard Jamari Wheeler said. "We've just got to do it. All come together, stay on the same page and get it done. It ain't like it's out of our control.
"We've got to control what we can control, and I'm pretty sure we'll like where we come in going into the end of the season."
Izzo has set his team's standard for the final two games.
"I want them to just play harder, because I'm not getting out of them what I need out of them," he said. "I need them to play harder."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 2, 2022