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.
Gritty defense, offensive runs, and a desire to win was the name of the game at the Breslin Center, as the team that controlled their own destiny did everything they could to keep their little brother from a share at the conference title.
Thad Matta and his Buckeye Roundballers had something to say about that in the second half. Down as much as 15, Ohio State had just the spirited effort needed in the second frame needed for a solid tournament run.
It was the often discredited senior William Buford hitting the winning fade from the top of the key with .8 seconds left in the 72-70 victory to end the regular season.
Early, it looked like turnovers, transition basketball and fast break points were going to do the Buckeyes in. Throughout the length of the first half, it was a lack of execution on offense, a breakdown on the wings defensively, and the continued collapsing of the paint defensively by the Michigan State Spartans that was the difference.
The green and white had 5 points off turnovers, 7 fast break points and a 14-7 lead with just five minutes played in the ballgame. But of course, that wasn’t enough.
After the first media timeout, former Valpo guard Brandon Wood went on a 8-0 run on his own. After a coast-to-coast layup off a steal off a beautiful pass from Draymond Green, Wood dialed up long distance off a Derrick Nix rebound pushed up the flor to freshman Travis Trice who found Wood open at the top of the key. A minute later after a pair of Aaron Craft free throws, Trice would get the basketball in mid air on perfectly timed Derrick Nix block that led to another transition three pointer that made it 19-7.
After the 15-2 run, Michigan state sat comfortable at 22-9.