This afternoon, a true champion of the Big Ten Conference was crowned, as the Michigan State Spartans held on in the final minutes to defeat the Ohio State Buckeyes 68-64 for their first conference tournament championship since 2000.
Back and forth, punch for punch, strength vs. strength. For everything Michigan State threw at Ohio State, the Buckeyes responded. Every ounce of heart left on the hardwood in scarlet was matched with a stain of green pride.
In the first ten and a half minutes, there were seven lead changes.
First it was the Michigan State Spartans imposing their will. Taking a 7-2 lead early off a three pointer in the far corner from Draymond Green. The Buckeyes would respond with three turnovers in the first two minutes and sinking only one field goal in their first seven tries.
Aaron Craft would change that with a solid iso drive to the right and into the paint for the one handed layup. Getting back on defense is the key in any close game, as Craft would stymie a drive to the hoop by poking away the basketball to William Buford on the opposing possession.
The senior would take the basketball coast to coast on a one handed jam. Jared Sullinger would follow that up with a turnaround hook from the mid-post to give Ohio State the lead on the 8-0 run.
In total in the first half, both teams would trade leads a total of 12 times.
William Buford kept it close with a fadeaway two from the far wing, causing contact and a foul call on the made bucket. After the free throw it was tied at 27 all.
After the make, the senior would get back on the defensive end and get a backside block that ended up in the hands of Lenzelle Smith Jr. who put up a two point leaner on the baseline that hit nothing but the bottom of the nylon.
Ohio State would take their first lead of the game at 29-27, but the Spartans would end the half on a 7-3 run for the 34-32 lead.
Starting the second, both teams knew they needed to turn it up offensively. Man alive, they didn’t disappoint out of the gates.
In the first five minutes, both teams scored a total of 25 points.
Brandon Wood started things off with an opening baseline drive for the layup making it 36-32. Jared Sullinger, who missed most of the first half due to foul trouble, would answer on the opposite end to make it 36-34. Austin Thornton would then respond with a big three in the opening shootout of the second half on a tip back from inside off the hands of the former walk on.
Craft and Sully would then go to work on the opposite end of the floor from the near wing. After a beautiful crossover gave craft a lane to the hoop, Sullinger would hit the three from the wing on the kick out from Craft with the closing Spartan defender giving the big man too much space. After a missed attempt off the hands of Thorton from deep, Sullinger would remain the hot hand on the opposite side of the court, nailing a long two to make it 41-39. Brandon Wood would answer with a huge three to give Michigan State the lead. Then Lenzelle Smith Jr. would drain a three from the far side wing to give OSU the lead back. Back on the other end, Adreian Payne threw down a monster jam with two hands on the fast break. Smith would then hit his second straight big three from the same spot on the floor to make it 47-44. Sullinger would make a hook from the mid post, which was answered by a Deshaun Thomas three from the corner to give Ohio State it’s biggest lead of the afternoon at 52-45.
Michigan State wold answer back with a slam on the near side baseline from Derrick Nix on a feed from Brandon Wood. The fifth year senior would then hit a huge three on the next possession to make it 52-50 ohio state. Wood with the hot hand would nail another one from the near wing to give the Spartans the lead on an 8-0 run. Brandan Kearney would put the ball back in the hoop on another three attempt from Wood to make it a three point lead.
Austin Thornton would continue the onslaught with a three pointer to keep the Michigan State 13-0 run alive.
Deshaun Thomas would make the layup to end the run.
Troubles would continue, when Brandon Wood grabbed a rebound and drove to the far sideline forcing Aaron Craft to foul. He would leave the ballgame with four and it was the freshman Shannon Scott called upon to control the basketball.
For the next two minutes, the game would remain scoreless until Jared Sullinger and Draymond Green exchanged trips to the line with just under nine minutes to go.
With a three point lead at 60-57, Draymond Green sent a lazer beam into the paint over the head of Derrick Nix. Brandon Wood would pick up the basketball in mid air and throw it off the glass on the baseline to take the five point lead with under seven minutes to play.
Without a field goal in four minutes, head coach Thad Matta called upon Aaron Craft off the bench with four fouls to run the offense. He would score a bucket off the inbound right away to cut the lead to three with 5:20 on the clock.
Derrick Nix would answer with a left hander over Sullinger to take it back to five at 64-59.
After a Jared Sullinger rebound in the low post off a missed jumper, Craft would push the pace with a beautiful pass from mid court to the lane where William Buford would draw the foul on the scoop layup attempt. He would make one of two to cut the lead to four with just 3:50 to go in the game.
Sullinger would go to the baseline on the next possession and put a two hander up and good off the glass to cut it to two at 64-62.
Going back and forth in the final five minutes, Draymond Green would hit a three to make it 67-62.
Off a Keith Appling off the heel with less than a minute to go, William Buford would storm up the court and rush a three point shot that fell well short. Craft would pick up the rebound on the baseline and kick it out to Buford on the far wing, who had a good look at the basket that fell in and out.
After two one and one attempts gone bad, Aaron Craft would drive to the lane, stop and accelerate with the tight spin move and lay it up off the glass to cut it to three at 67-64 with just 14.6 ticks left on the clock.
Austin Thornton would then head to the line after the intentional foul in the double bonus. He would miss the first but make the second to make it a two possession game at 68-64.
Trying to close it to one possession quickly, Ohio State held onto the basketball too long and with six seconds, Deshaun Thomas fired a three from the corner that was well short. Aaron Craft would try and haul in the basketball on the baseline, but it would fall out of bounds with just two seconds on the clock.
Ohio State finished the game shooting 25/63 (40%) from the floor. Jared Sullinger led all Buckeye scorers with 18 points and nine rebounds.
Brandon Wood had the biggest game of his career as a Spartan. He finished with 21 points on the night, as the Spartans 26/54 (48%) from the floor.
What a great game to watch as a fan of basketball, even though our team fell short. Hats off to the Michigan State Spartans. Hopefully this Ohio State team can meet them again down the road in the final four.