The Buckeyes and Spartans faced off in a rubber match in the semi-finals of the Big Ten Tournament to decide who would face Wisconsin for the Championship. Ohio State pulled away at the end to win 61-58 after a hard fought battle for both teams. Aaron Craft led all scorers with 20 points, and was joined by DeShaun Thomas’s 16 in leading the Buckeyes. Michigan State responded with Derrick Nix (17), Keith Appling (16), and Adreian Payne (12) all scoring in double figures.
Despite starting their previous games sluggishly, both Michigan State and Ohio State came out attacking on defense in this one. Early on, it clearly favored the Spartans, as OSU struggled to find clean looks inside, and DeShaun Thomas couldn’t find his shot from the outside. Eventually, the Bucks began to open it up down low with some great play from Craft and Evan Ravenel. That freed up the shooters on the outside, including LaQuinton Ross continuing his shooting streak from yesterday. Unfortunately, neither team was able to really run away with this one in the first half, and Michigan State went into the locker room with a one point lead after an ill-advised Evan Ravenel final shot.
The back and forth affair continued well into the second half. However, after a first half with functionally no called fouls (OSU had 1 to MSU’s 4) the refs began to call a tighter game in the second. Virtually any contact was whistled, which completely changed the complexion of the game. Not that it was going to stop Aaron Craft from taking over the half on his own. His 17 points through the first 12 minutes of the half was instrumental in keeping the Buckeyes neck and neck with the Spartans. OSU was eventually able to open an 8 point lead late in the half, but it didn’t last long when MSU reset their defense and hit a second-chance trey to close the gap again.
It all came down the final seconds when Michigan State brought the game within one. A flagrant one call on Derrick Nix sent Aaron Craft to the line where he hit one of the two. On the ensuing possession, the Bucks found DeShaun Thomas who sank a critical 18 footer to give OSU the four point lead. MSU was unable to respond with more than a two pointer with only a second left to go.
If ever there were a sign that this Buckeye team is peaking at the right time, this game was it. It did not matter the outcome of this game. This team brought it in all phases against a team that they do not particularly match up well against, and came away successfully with the win. If there is any question moving into the NCAA tournament that OSU is a legitimate contender, that should have been answered satisfactorily today.
1. Solid defensive effort – from both teams. The Buckeyes did a much better job today of coming out and playing tough defense. There was very little available on the interior for MSU despite their size advantage. I’d hate to neglect to mention Michigan State’s defensive effort as well. Great work overall.
2. Craft’s effort in the second half. Aaron Craft made himself known as a pain in the butt yet again versus the Spartains. He baited an inbounds pass which he turned into a layup, dropped a three pointer, and hit a running floater off the glass. He is such an integral part of the success for this team, and I can’t imagine us playing without him.
3. A win. The Buckeyes are now 10-1 in the last 4 Big Ten Tournaments (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013). That’s a fantastic streak, and possibly the best in the Big Ten over any 4 year span.
1. Someone forgot to turn on the Microwave. DeShaun Thomas just didn’t have a very good shooting start to the game. He began to turn it around eventually, but it was still spotty at best, particularly from long range. He needs to continue to look for shots in the paint rather than jacking up ill-advised and rapid three pointers.
2. Shot selection. This has been an on-and-off problem all year, mostly dependent on just how good the opposing defense is. Unfortunately, Michigan State’s solid defense convinced the Buckeyes to loft desperation shots that they simply didn’t need. Shooting an 18-footer with 2 defenders is probably not wise.
The Buckeyes will next play tomorrow against the Wisconsin Badgers. You’ll be able to see that game on CBS at 3:30 PM Eastern Time.