Spartans Top Buckeyes In Intense B1G Title Game
By Brandon Castel
INDIANAPOLIS — Whether there was really a No. 1 seed on the line in Sunday’s Big Ten Tournament title game may never be known, but it certainly felt like one of the most important games of the college basketball season.
With the intensity running high inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the conference’s top two teams squared off in a back-and-forth battle that featured five ties and 16 lead changes.
No. 1-seed Michigan State (27-7) held a 34-32 lead at the half, and the score was the same in the second half as the Spartans finally pulled away from Ohio State (27-7) for a 68-64 win in Indianapolis.
“Well, this game came down, as we thought it would, to making big plays,” said Matta after the loss.
“Last Sunday, we made the plays, we made the shots. Today they did, and it was a back‑and‑forth battle.”
The 7th-ranked Buckeyes got 18 points and nine rebounds from sophomore Jared Sullinger, but Ohio State did not share the basketball like it did the first two days of the tournament, victories over Purdue and Michigan.
They shot less than 40 percent from the floor and were just 4-17 behind the arc, which offset the fact Ohio State outrebounded Michigan State 43-30, including 18-7 on the offensive glass.
“We just didn't execute this game and we didn't play to our best ability this game, but fortunately, we have another day of practice,” said Sullinger, who was named to the Big Ten’s All-Tournament Team.
“Now we're going into a tournament where it's just one and done. You don't know what's going to happen the next day so you just gotta give it your all.”
The game certainly had an NCAA Tournament feel, with Ohio State and Michigan State fans going back and forth in the arena. The teams were doing the same on the court, despite the Spartans getting out to an early 7-2 lead.
From there, the game was a one or two point game for much of the rest of the half before Michigan State took a 34-29 lead in the final minute on a layup by point guard Keith Appling.
OSU point guard Aaron Craft responded at the other end with a layup to make it a two-point game at the break, and both coaches were starting to boil over with frustration at the officials.
The Buckeyes and Spartans split their two meetings in the regular season, with MSU winning in Columbus and Ohio State stunning them on Senior Day in East Lansing with a 15-point comeback.
It was capped off by a game-winning jump shot in the final second by William Buford, but Ohio State’s lone senior was just 4-12 against Michigan State Sunday for 11 points. The same goes for Deshaun Thomas, who was also named to the Big Ten’s All-Tournament team.
The Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, however, was Michigan State senior Draymond Green.
“Coach always talked to us about leaving a footprint in the sand. He always said Mateen Cleaves, he left a footprint, Magic Johnson—they left a footprint,” Green said.
“Me and (fellow senior Austin Thornton) always say, when we leave here, we want him to talk about the Green-Thornton era. We've been talking about our footprint.”
Thomas actually did a pretty good job of slowing down Green for most of the game. He finished with 12 points and nine rebounds, but was just 4-15 from the floor. He did hit maybe the biggest shot of the game, however—a three from the wing that gave Michigan State a 62-57 lead with 7:27 to play.
The Spartans also got 21 points from Brandon Wood, including back-to-back threes in the second half during Michigan State’s 10-0 run.
Ohio State had just pulled ahead, 52-45, on a three from Thomas, and it looked like the Buckeyes were positioning themselves for a third-straight Big Ten Tournament championship.
Instead, the Spartans ripped off the next 10 points to take a 55-52 lead with 11:59 to play. The Buckeyes twice cut the lead to one, but they could not overtake Michigan State down the stretch.
Sullinger’s layup cut it to 64-62 with 3:27 to play, but Thomas and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. both rushed three-point attempts leading up to Green’s big three at the 1:35 mark. Buford fired a deep three with a hand in his face, but it only drew front iron and the Spartans held on for the Big Ten Championship.
“We're all competitors, and you never like losing basketball games, especially when it comes down to the wire like that,” Craft said.
“But like Jared said, we still have to come back and find a way to get better and find a way to continue to be a better basketball team tomorrow. And by the time we get to our next game, hopefully we are a better basketball team.”
Ohio State’s next game will come Thursday in Pittsburgh against Loyola (Md.) in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State will face Long Island University-Brooklyn on Friday in the West Region.
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