When Chris Holtmann was named the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team last June, the announcement revitalized the program. It wasn’t because Thad Matta was a bad coach—he is arguably the best coach in program history—but there needed to be a new face leading the Buckeyes, one that would bring some much-needed energy and a new look to Ohio State basketball. In just seven months, Holtmann has done just that—and then some.
Sunday afternoon proved just that. Heading into weekend, the scarlet and gray were tied atop the Big Ten with a perfect 3-0 conference record. Set to host the No. 1 Michigan State Spartans, who were also 3-0 in Big Ten play, the 12-4 Buckeyes had a chance to prove that they are in fact one of the best teams in the conference.
They not only proved just that, but they made quite a statement as well, upsetting the top-ranked Spartans, 80-64, in Columbus. Whether it was the fact that it was nationally televised or just that it was a home game, Ohio State seemed to have plenty of confidence heading into the game, the kind that you don’t usually see when an unranked team goes against the top-ranked team in the country. Not only did the Buckeyes have the opportunity to put the rest of college basketball on notice, but they even let their own fans realize that the scarlet and gray can be special in Holtmann’s first season at the helm while securing their first signature win with their new head leading the way.
Early on, it seemed as though Michigan State was going to make it look easy. Whether it was their talent or the fact that they overmatched Ohio State, the Spartans took an early 11-4 lead. But then Ohio State seemed to wake up.
Following an 11-0 run, they took their first lead of the game at 15-11. After going back-and-forth for much of the first half, the Buckeyes dominated the final two minutes of the half, going on a 12-0 run to take a 41-29 lead into the halftime locker room. The run was capped off by Andrew Dakich banking in a buzzer-beating three-pointer from well beyond the arc.
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) January 7, 2018
Dakich was quite happy following the shot, as he should have been.
A picture is worth a thousand words. pic.twitter.com/2aGWIPHx4b
— Josh Poloha (@JorshP) January 7, 2018
With a 12-point halftime lead, Ohio State didn’t let their foot off the gas pedal in the final 20 minutes. They went on quick 8-2 run to start the second half and led by as many as 24 points midway through the second half to all but put the game away with a little less than 10 minutes remaining. The Spartans cut the lead to 14 following a 13-2 run, but the scarlet and gray remained calm and extended the lead to 75-57 with a little over four minutes remaining.
Ohio State forward Keita Bates-Diop talked about the “game of runs” following the victory and a game that, while it was full of runs by both teams, the scarlet and gray had the biggest (and longest) runs to dominate the Spartans.
“It was a game of runs and spurts. We went on a run in the first half and carried it into the second,” Bates-Diop said. “Our game plan was to dig off the bigs, and trap anybody in the post. We just executed our game plan.”
The Buckeyes only had three points from their bench unit, but that simply didn’t matter due to how well the starters played. Four of Ohio State’s five starters notched double digits, including Bates-Diop, who had the best game of his career. The redshirt junior finished with a career-high 32 points to go along with seven rebounds, three steals, and one block. He is the first Buckeye to score 30 points in a game since former Buckeye and current Brooklyn Nets guard D’Angelo Russell did notched 33 points against Northwestern on January 22, 2015.
C.J. Jackson (14 points, six rebounds, three assists), Jae’Sean Tate (13 points, three rebounds, three assists, two steals, one block), and Kam Williams (10 points, four rebounds) were the other three starters to score in double figures.
Jackson was even nice enough to break a Michigan State defender’s ankles as well.
It just isn’t Sparty’s day. pic.twitter.com/91s530D2mr
— Josh Poloha (@JorshP) January 7, 2018
Ohio State’s offense played very well, but their defense was the biggest reason they were able to pull off the upset. The Buckeyes forced 12 turnovers and forced the Spartans to shoot just 39 percent from the floor and 28 percent from beyond the arc.
They also made things tough for Miles Bridges, who is one of the best players in college basketball. He had 17 points but shot just 7-of-19 from the floor. Kaleb Wesson and Micah Potter, along with a little of Kyle Young mixed in, forced Michigan State center Nick Ward to just three points and to miss his only shot of the game. Tate thanked Holtmann and the head coach’s game plan for shutting down Ward offensively.
“When we play teams with such dominant bigs like Nick (Ward) and (Jaren) Jackson, we usually try to double them, make it as tough as possible, and get the ball out of their hands,” the forward said of Ohio State’s game plan defensively. “This isn’t the first time we’ve done it, and it won’t be the last. It was great coaching by Coach Holtmann. We were able to hold Nick to one shot, and that was the key to our win.”
Wesson piggybacked Tate, stating that it was the game plan and he and his teammates did a great job of executing what needed to be done.
“I feel like it was good help from my teammates. Our defensive plan was to try to keep the ball out of his hands, and I feel like we did that.”
Ironically, this isn’t the first time Wesson and Ward have gone against one another, the two Columbus natives faced off plenty of times during high school.
Whether it was the fact that their big man only had one shot or just that Sparty looked discombobulated on offense, Michigan State just didn’t look like themselves for much of the game Sunday afternoon. They can thank Holtmann and company for their game plan against the Spartans, one that the Buckeyes seemed to execute almost perfectly.
Following the upset, the head coach was very excited for both his team and Buckeye Nation.
“It is surreal at times for sure. You go into the year not sure what to expect and very rarely do you have a chance to even play a number one team in the country on your home floor,” Holtmann said. “That’s a credit to Michigan State. This is a moment that our fans and our players will remember for a long time.”
Sunday’s upset win over Michigan State was the first time Ohio State has beaten a No. 1-ranked team since February 25, 2007, when the Buckeyes took down top-ranked Wiscosin, 49-48. It was also quite a feat for Holtmann as well. He is the first head coach since Thad Matta1 to beat a No. 1 team in back-to-back seasons with two different schools. His Butler Bulldogs upset No. 1 Villanova in 2016.
Following the huge win, it looks as though Holtmann has officially been sworn into the Ohio State coaching fraternity.
Just moments after beating No. 1, Chris Holtmann officially arrived at Ohio State. pic.twitter.com/LW1LtwaxB1
— Nick Piotrowicz (@NickPiotrowicz) January 7, 2018
The Buckeyes are now 13-4 on the season and a perfect 4-0 in Big Ten play, something that even Big Ten media members didn’t expect.
Prior to the season, Ohio State was picked to finish 11th (out of 14) in the conference by Big Ten media members. Four games in, the Buckeyes are a perfect 4-0 and tied atop the B1G after upsetting No. 1 Michigan State.
— Josh Poloha (@JorshP) January 7, 2018
Earlier in the week, the Buckeyes beat Iowa in Iowa City, 92-81, in a game that the scarlet and gray dominated. After taking a 46-32 halftime lead, Ohio State went on cruise control in the second half for a big win in Iowa, something that (unfortunately) the football team couldn’t do in the fall.
Even with the big-time win, Holtmann knows that he and his team can’t celebrate it too much and must look forward to the rest of the season, starting Thursday, when the Buckeyes host Maryland.
“The challenge now is how we will respond from this win with a win against a really good Maryland team coming up, but we will enjoy this one today,” Holtmann said of the challenge moving forward. “I can’t say enough about the crowd and the atmosphere was outstanding.”
- Matta beat No. 1 St. Joe’s with Butler in 2004 and then No. 1 Illinois with Ohio State in 2005. [↩]