College Basketball Road Trip: Buckeyes edge Spartans in Big Ten battle
The last time I saw Ohio State play Michigan State in person, it was a lot different from this.
It was February 2010 at the Breslin Center in East Lansing. Ohio State’s Evan Turner was an electrifying force of college basketball, a show and a half as he shot the lights out. Tom Izzo’s stars included Draymond Green and Kalin Lucas alongside a scrappily effective supporting crew. Ohio State went on to win the Big Ten tournament and make the Sweet 16. Michigan State went all the way to the Final Four.
This year’s a little different for both teams.
The mood for much of the first half of the Buckeyes’ matchup with the Spartans on Sunday was quieter than usual in the normally rocking Value City Arena. Simply not a lot of fan energy for Thad Matta and company, who came into the game with a lackluster 22-8 record and two consecutive losses.
Michigan State didn’t have it much better, having lost four of its past six games and staring down the barrel of a projected 5- or 6-seed in the NCAA tournament.
The Spartans, once No. 1 in the country a few weeks into the season, had slipped to 22nd. Ohio State, ranked 10th in the preseason, isn’t even on the list anymore. For Michigan State, injuries have dampened the season, though it is back to full-health now, at least on paper. The Buckeyes have suffered eight conference losses and didn’t even hit a three-pointer at Penn State. Bracketologists have both teams as middle-tier seeds for the Big Dance.
But even a limping team still has something to prove, however, and Sunday’s face-off was a slow affair until the second half, when both teams found the spark and the game was tied four times in the last eight minutes. In the end, it was senior Aaron Craft, who at 325 netted the most steals in Big Ten history earlier in the game, making his final steal in front of the home crowd to protect a 69-67 lead and bring the Buckeyes a morale-building victory.
While the win can only help bolster the Bucks’ tourney chances, Izzo’s Spartans definitely are dancing despite his clear disappointment in the season.
"We’re a wimpy team right now," Izzo said, eyes down in the postgame presser. "Look, if you think this is good old-fashioned smash-mouth Michigan State basketball right now, you’re kidding yourselves."
With both teams en route to a Big Ten tournament on Tuesday and the inevitable pins and needles of the NCAA tournament selection show, both the Buckeyes and the Spartans need some fine-tuning if they’re going to make waves. There’s not a lot of time to do that. For Izzo, having a healthy team back might be the shot in the arm needed, and this win could give Ohio State some confidence back. We’ll find out soon enough.