Though Ohio State trailed early, behind a huge offensive push in the second half (and some expertly timed time outs by Thad Matta and the coaching staff), the Buckeyes bounced back to defeat the fourth ranked Michigan State Spartans. The Buckeyes made an impressive statement after entering Sunday's game just 1-7 against ranked opponents on the season. At the under four time out, OSU point guard Aaron Craft was 6-10 from the field, and perhaps even more importantly, in stark contrast from last year, 4-for-4 from the line. Craft also aided the cause with six assists. Buckeyes star Deshaun Thomas was extremely quiet by his high standards in the first half, but battled through in the second half to finish with double digits in the scoring column as well.
Adreian Payne channeled the best of Jared Sullinger and San Antonio Spurs forward DeJuan Blair in pulling down 18 rebounds (10 in the first half alone). Guard Gary Harris also showed why he's one of (if not the) favorites to win the Big Ten's freshman of the year award both scoring in double digits and helping create opportunities for his teammates. Senior Derrick Nix joined the duo with double figures in points in the box score though Branden Dawson finished just under his regular season average.
In spite of an overall performance Tom Izzo would call "fat and sassy" in the postgame, Michigan State got off to a solid enough start, keeping pace with Ohio State for much of the early first. The Buckeyes actually jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead, before a problem with the shot clocks forced a brief stoppage in the game. After the lull in action, Michigan State came back looking reinvigorated, catapulting to a 6-0 run out of the stoppage.
With the two teams meeting that have combined for 8 of the last 11 Big Ten regular season basketball titles, a sustained 10-2 run by Sparty upped the lead to 10-6. Evan Ravenel, who answered both critics of his game and those wanting Matta to go in a defined direction that wasn't to more minutes for Amir Williams, made a surprisingly athletic move leading to a three point play and helping Ohio State close the gap.
In spite of Ravenel's early scoring prowess (7 points in the first half; 10 on the game), Michigan State was controlling the boards, largely behind Payne. WIth both teams shooting around the 40-45% mark, the Spartans dictated things with their early 10-4 control of the glass.
Shannon Scott would take the opportunity to show both how quick he is in transition while also making some statements defensively, though Ohio State was unable to capitalize on some opportunities due to the cold start by Thomas (1-6 from the field and several near turnovers on suspect passes). Payne's 10 rebounds in 15 minutes would help neutralize much of Ohio State's ability to generate additional possessions as well as second chance points, and it wasn't until Sam Thompson's GIF du jour, that the Buckeyes started to feel like they had some actual momentum again.
Thompson's emphatic in-bound slam (certainly not his first of the season) got the crowd to the loudest decibal output level they'd reached on the afternoon, and though it merited a second, third, and fourth look, Deshaun Thomas would miss for the sixth time on the first half leading into intermission and giving Michigan State a 31-25 lead. The relative absence of the Buckeyes' best scorer along with the rebounding disparity (21-13) told much of the tale of the first two minutes of basketball.
Sparty would start the second half strong, expanding the lead up to nine, before Ohio State would begin a stretch that would define the game. Aaron Craft, who finished with a career high 21 points (he'd previously had 20 against Albany), showcased his explosive ability on both sides of the ball, and even after Craft's fourth driving layup of the afternoon, a brilliantly conceived Matta timeout allowed the Buckeyes to make adjustments to their defense that would help set the tone for the remainder of the afternoon.
An impressively long Payne jumper would stop a 7-0 run that had helped Ohio State quell the margin from MSU's favor, before Lenzelle Smith three point shot would stop a streak that had seen both teams combine for 4-for-23 from the field and give the Buckeyes a 39-38 second half lead. Amir Williams would follow several sequences later with a head scratching and-one finish in traffic that would help expand the Buckeyes lead to 45-40.
Behind an 18-4 OSU run, LaQuinton Ross would further up the margin with a three from the corner. The Buckeyes dominance on the ball screen made Michigan State looked ill equip to keep pace, and the run was suddenly upped to 22-5. Minutes later, Deshaun Thomas would pull down his sixth rebound, making him just the 25th ever Buckeye to score 1000 points and grab 500 boards.
Despite the game seeming to be comfortably in Ohio State's control, Michigan State would prove why they were ranked fourth in the country entering this week with a 7-0 run in just over 1:08 of play. With the lead down to a one possession game , Ohio State would have to continue their dominance at the free throw line to pull out any hope of the win.
Right on cue, Evan Ravenel would hit from big free throws and suddenly Ohio State found themselves 16-of-17 from the line. As previously mentioned, that represents not only a leaps and bounds improvement for individuals like Craft, but for the team as a whole. Michigan State also did themselves no favors, making only 16 of their 22 freebies.
A costly late Keith Appling turnover insured Ohio State would emerge victorious, and with Aaron Craft padding his total with late free throws, the player that Izzo would say "beat us every way you could beat us" after the game ensured a career day would be more importantly marked by a key momentum establishing victory over a probable top 3 seed caliber tournament team.
Ohio State will take the momentum of two big wins into a Thursday rematch against Northwestern, a team that battled them down to the under two minute mark just over a week and a half ago. After the trip to Evanston, Ohio State will finish the season at storied Assembly Hall taking on the top ranked Indiana Hoosiers before playing host to former Buckeyes assistant John Groce and Illinois the final Sunday of college basketball's regular season.
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