Behind a herculean effort from Ohio State junior Aaron Craft, (20 points, 9 assists, 3 rebounds, and 4 steals) the Buckeyes won the rubber game of their season series with Michigan State to reach their fifth straight Big Ten Tournament championship game. Craft was just 1-for-2 going into halftime, but bounced back in remarkable fashion during the second half to lead the Buckeyes to the victory. In addition to being downright surgical on passes in transition, Craft had easily his most important offensive game of the 2012-2013 men's basketball season. Deshaun Thomas wasn't the scoring machine he was during Ohio State's first matchup with the Spartans (16 points, 7 rebounds to 28 points in that one), but was the Buckeyes' second leading scorer despite a rough go at it from beyond the arc.
Michigan State had the diversity of offensive firepower we've come to expect from Tom Izzo's 2012-2013 side. Adreian Payne (12 points, 8 rebounds), Derrick Nix (17 points, 9 rebounds), and Keith Appling (16 points) all broke double digits in helping the Spartans battle the entirety of the afternoon with the Buckeyes. The Spartans gave a commenadable comeback effort after trailing by 8 with over three minutes to go, but a late flagrant one foul against Derrick Nix on Aaron Craft helped nip Michigan State's rally attempt in the bud.
The game tipped off with both teams, as expected, exhibiting a high caliber of defense. After a minute and a half of scoreless, jittery offensively basketball, Keith Appling broke the tie with a pure three to give Michigan State their first lead of the afternoon. The two teams would take turns punching and counter punching before a brief 7-1 run by the Spartans helped give them the first real lead of the afternoon.
A ferocious Evan Ravenel dunk helped Ohio State to close the gap. Later, Craft's first (and only) field goal of the first half would make things 13-11. Thomas' cold three point shooting was there from the get go; heading towards the under eight timeout, Thomas was just 1-of-5 from long distance range. One trend that would help the Buckeyes make up for the lack of Thomas' offensive productivity would be their selflessness with the rock. Seven of the Buckeyes' first eight field goals were assisted on and through that juncture, 27 of the team's 34 made shots in their two Big Ten Tournament games combined were all assisted on.
The two teams continued trading shortly lived leads before a Thomas jumper and layup in succession opened the lead up to 28-23. The Buckeyes at the point had 10 assists on their 11 field goals. Sparty answered back, however, and with both teams again demonstrating elite level defense, Michigan State was able to go into the locker room up, 29-28. Though Craft had just the one made shot during the recess, he had assisted on five of the Buckeyes 11 made plays (and the team as a whole had selflessly found their teammates on 11 of 12 makes).
The open of the second half represented much of the same, with each tame taking turns leading the game. Getting closer to the 11 minute mark, Ohio State would open up their biggest lead of the afternoon (and the biggest lead for either team to that point) behind a 9-2 run which helped bump the Buckeyes' margin up to 57-49. Keith Appling wasn't about to let Michigan State go away quietly, however.
Another confident three from the Spartans' point guard closed the gap to 57-53 and the United Center crowd seemed into things for the first time on the day. Though Deshaun Thomas found himself just 2-for-10 from beyond the arc late in the game, Craft's continued offensive impressiveness helped to carry the Buckeyes. "He looked like me," Thomas would later tell the media after the game. Craft and the Buckeyes' continued to fend off a plucky Michigan State team and the previously mentioned flagrant foul took a lot the momentum out of Sparty's rally.
"For once in my life, I give the officials credit," Tom Izzo would say in his postgame press conference.
The Buckeyes made the requisite free throws down the stretch, and in spite of a late make from Michigan State, Ohio State was able to hold on, 61-58. Ultimately, the Buckeyes scored 33 points in whole during the second half. Craft remarkably had a hand in 27 of them.
The Buckeyes now move on to face old friend Bo Ryan and the fourth seeded Wisconsin Badgers tomorrow afternoon in the 2013 Big Ten Tournament championship game. Ohio State last won the Big Ten Tournament in 2011 while Wisconsin's last tournament title came in 2008. Ohio State finds themselves in the league's title game for the fifth year in a row, the seventh time in eight years, and perhaps even more remarkably, the the ninth time in 12 years. Tomorrow's game should tip a little after 3:30 p.m. EDT Sunday on CBS (channel 1010 HD/10 SD on Time Warner Columbus/Delaware).
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- Junior guard Aaron Craft led all scorers with 20 points. Craft scored 20 points against the Spartans for the secondconsecutive game. He has three 20-point games in his career. He totaled a season best nine assists, the most by a Buckeye in a Big Ten Tournament game.
- Craft and sophomore guard Shannon Scott combined for 14 assists, six steals and only three turnovers.
- Ohio State is 21-9 all-time in the Big Ten Tournament. The Buckeyes have advanced to seven of the last eight tournament finals and have won 17 of their last 21 games in the tournament overall. The Buckeyes are 3-2 against the Spartans in the Big Ten Tournament.
- Head coach Thad Matta owns the best Big Ten Tournament winning percentage (.783) and the second-most tournament wins (18) of any conference coach in history.
- Matta has compiled a record of 49-12 as a head coach in March, the fourth-best record by percentage (.803) among active coaches.He has won 25 or more games in six of his nine seasons at Ohio State and in 9 of his 13 seasons as head coach. Matta coached teams have never failed to reach the 20-win plateau.
- In the first half, Ohio State had an assist on each of its 11 made field goals.
- OSU owned a 15-6 advantage in bench points. The Buckeyes have a 587-379 edge over opposing benches in points scored this season.
- Michigan State shot 40 percent for the game (20-50). The Buckeyes have held opposing teams under 50 percent shooting in 29 of 32 games.
- The Buckeyes outscored Michigan State 11-0 on the fast break.
- Ohio State owns four wins against AP top-10 teams this season.
- Ohio State finished with just five turnovers, resulting in zero points for the Spartans.