The first five minutes looked eerily like Ohio State's game against Illinois, as the Buckeyes struggled to create good shots, turned the ball over, and found themselves trailing, 10-0. Ohio State was able to ride some hot three point shooting, especially thanks to a career day from Deshaun Thomas to crawl back into the game, but Michigan State had just enough to pull out the win.
Michigan State didn't enjoy a breakout offensive performance, but all five Spartan starters had at least 8 points, led big man Adreian Payne's 14 points and 5 boards, and Keith Appling's 15 points, including the critical breakaway dunk to push the margin to 4 with under 30 seconds left and free throws to keep it a 3 point game with 7.9 seconds.
The Buckeyes had a chance to tie the game at 59 with 7.9 seconds left, but Shannon Scott heaved an off balance three early in the clock, perhaps anticipating a foul, and Michigan State rebounded and ran out the clock.
No other Buckeye had more than 6 points. Michigan State's clutch rebounding, strong team defense (9 steals) and strong closing performances from Appling and Gary Harris were enough to overcome a heroic scoring effort from Thomas.
Ohio State might look towards their free throws as a possible culprit, as the Buckeyes shot only 61% from the stripe (8-13), leaving more than the margin on the table. Nine first half turnovers also helped keep the Buckeyes from developing a lead early.
The Buckeyes were a little fortunate that this one didn't get away early. After trailing 12-2 early, Ohio State jumped out with a 13-0 run, paced by a pair of threes from Thomas and another from Aaron Craft to take an early lead. The two teams battled neck and neck for the rest of the half, but Michigan State was able to stake out a 30-26 halftime lead thanks to Ohio State's nine turnovers, and a strong performance from Appling.The Buckeyes struggled to manufacture any kind of offense out of the halfcourt, but got enough production from three pointers and in transition to remain competitive.
Ohio State continued their three-and-Thomas based attack in the second half, but Michigan State made it clear they weren't concerned about any other Buckeye beating them with their shooting. For nearly the entirety of the second half, Ohio State's second leading scorer had five points. Craft shot 2-for-8, including many badly missed threes, Scott was 1-for-5, and Amir Williams was so invisible that he nearly recorded a trillion in the first half.
Despite all of this, Ohio State found themselves in a position to win late in the game, coming back from a 7-point deficit to tie the game at 50 with 2:49 left. Payne gave the Spartans the lead after an exceptionally athletic putback, and after Ravenel lost the ball with 1:46, it appeared the Spartans could get some critical separation.
Instead, Craft picked up one of his five steals, and hit Ravenel in transition, where he was fouled in the act of shooting. Craft picked the Spartan's pockets on the next possession as well, and a pair of Thomas free throws tied the game again at 53 with under a minute left.
Appling was able to drive through traffic to get the go ahead bucket with 37 seconds. A wide-open Craft three pointer drew iron, setting up an Appling breakaway to push the margin to four, seemingly putting the game out of reach. But Lenzelle Smith stormed back to hit a clutch corner three to make it a one point game with 10 seconds remaining. Appling hit his free throws after being fouled, and Shannon Scott took a puzzling off balanced three pointer to seal it for the Spartans.
The good news for Ohio State is that despite failing to develop a second scoring option, they were able to remain with a very good basketball team on the road and put themselves in a position to win the game. Had Ohio State taken a little better care of the basketball, or had Sam Thompson made a few free throws (1-4), it's a very different game. On the other hand, had Thomas not been unconscious from the field, the Buckeyes might have been looking at an Illinois situation.
At the end of the day, like Uncle Drew is so fond of saying, the game has always been about buckets, and Michigan State found a way to get them when they mattered down the stretch. The schedule opens up a teensy bit for Ohio State now, while the Spartans are about to enter the meat grinder section of theirs. The Buckeyes will have a little time to tweak their offensive sets, and find ways to help Thompson, Craft and Ross be more successful. It's a tough loss, but nobody ever said winning on the road in the Big Ten was going to be easy. Especially in the Big Ten in 2012-2013.