Ohio State on upswing after beating Michigan State
Aaron Craft scores career-high 21 points
A week ago, Ohio State was in the midst getting run off the floor at Wisconsin and wondering what was happening to its season after losing three of four games.
Now the 18th-ranked Buckeyes have run off two straight victories, the latest an impressive 68-60 win over fourth-ranked Michigan State at Value City Arena on Sunday.
Aaron Craft scored career-high 21 points and handed out six assists for Ohio State (20-7, 10-5 Big Ten). He helped spark a 24-5 run in the second half that turned a nine-point deficit into a 10-point lead.
"Give Aaron Craft a lot of credit," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "In the second half, he tore us up. He beat us every way you can beat us. It was a joint effort, it wasn't just one guy (who couldn't guard him)."
After Adreian Payne had put Michigan State ahead 36-27 with a jumper early in the second half, Craft went to work. He routinely beat the Michigan State defense on the ball screens and converted several layups while the Ohio State shooters started heating up.
"We saw some things we thought we could take advantage of," Craft said. "In the first game (against the Spartans, a three-point Michigan State win last month), we didn't do a great job of challenging their bigs on the ball screen. We know they are a great helping team, and it always helps when guys are knocking down shots from the outside. It opens the lanes up and we made some layups."
Deshaun Thomas, who finished with 14 points for the Buckeyes, was only 4-for-16 from the field, but his two 3-pointers during the second-half run were crucial. After his first triple, which cut Michigan State's lead to 36-30, Ohio State coach Thad Matta delivered a message.
Immediately after Thomas' shot went down, Matta called a timeout and told his team the opportunity was there to take control.
"He just said he wanted us to be aggressive on defense," Thomas said, "get some stops and some turnovers because the momentum was on our side after I hit that 3. We got like 14 turnovers, and that was big. Our defense led to our offense."
Michigan State, which lost consecutive games for the first time this season, cut the lead to two in the final three minutes but couldn't get over the hump.
Gary Harris scored 14 points for the Spartans (22-6, 11-4), while Payne added 12 points and 15 rebounds. Derrick Nix scored 12 points for Michigan State.
"I'm disappointed we haven't shown the grit we showed the last two games," Izzo said. "Normally that happens when you get fat and sassy, and I think we've gotten a little bit of that. Take no credit from Ohio State. They played OK in the first half and great in the second half and deserved to win."
Michigan State closed the first half on a 6-0 run to take a 31-25 lead into the locker room. Ohio State's Sam Thompson tied the game with an impressive three-point play before the Spartans went on their run, dunking on an inbounds play and converting the free throw.
The Spartans closed the half strong on a layup by Matt Costello and four straight points from Branden Dawson, including a dunk on a lob from Harris.
Dawson and Harris each had eight points for Michigan State, while Payne had 10 rebounds in the first half, and Evan Ravenel had seven points to lead Ohio State.
Michigan State outrebounded Ohio State 33-26 and shot better than the Buckeyes (45.7 percent to 44 percent).
However, the Buckeyes shot 57 percent from the field in the second half, and now look to close the season strong, the same way they did last season when they scratched out a share of the Big Ten championship.
"This time of year, you need to find something to get you rolling," Craft said. "That's what we did last year. ... Getting a win like this against a great team like Michigan State can only help going forward. What we can't do is feel too good about ourselves and not be ready to play at Northwestern on Thursday."
NOTES: Michigan State junior guard Travis Trice played his second straight game after missing the previous four with concussion-like symptoms. He played just six minutes Tuesday against Indiana but entered Sunday's game against Ohio State with 12:11 to play in the first half and finished with two points in 11 minutes of action. ... Ohio State's Thomas became the 24th player in school history to score 1,000 points and grab 500 rebounds. ... Sunday's game was the second of four consecutive against ranked opponents for Michigan State.
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