Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Spartans survive Buckeye comeback bid, hand OSU first loss of the season

No. 3 Ohio State 68, No. 5 Michigan State 72

While the temperatures in the Midwest continue to plummet, the mercury rose when the undefeated No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes headed to East Lansing tonight. The opening salvos? A thunderous dunk by Ohio State, then answered by two straight Spartan threes. 

Although the Buckeyes came in unbeaten, they had not been tested by an especially strenuous schedule to date; a trip to the Breslin Center would change that the minute the ball went up to open the game. 

Neither squad shot particularly well early, but four Buckeye turnovers helped the Spartans jump out to an 11-5 lead about seven minutes into the game. 

The pace picked up, and the Buckeyes rode a 7-0 run to a 1-point lead. Through about 10 minutes, neither team got much going in the halfcourt game; that is, when either of them took the opportunity to pull up and and run some offense. More often than not, the half progressed at breakneck speed, resulting in stretches of sloppy play. 

However, a 7-0 Spartan run at the end of the opening frame sent OSU into the half down 28-21. The Buckeyes shot just 33.3 percent and turned it over 10 times in the first half. 

OSU's leading scorer, LaQuinton Ross, managed just three first-half points, albeit on only two field goal attempts. The Buckeyes would have to find a way to get him involved in the second half if they were going to avoid the sort of the fate they doled out to Marquette back in November

Gary Harris buried a three to start the second, a shot that seemed like it could be an early death knell for a Buckeye team that had struggled mightily to score the ball.

The Buckeye defense gave it a bit of a boost when Lenzelle Smith stole an inbound pass, leading to a transition layup at the other end, cutting the MSU lead to 37-32. Then, the Buckeyes forced a Spartan turnover on the next possession. 

That momentum was short-lived, as the Buckeyes committed an offensive foul on the ensuing possession and MSU's Denzel Valentine knocked in a three. The Buckeyes ten turned it over on the next possession, resulting in a transition layup for Keith Appling. Just as quickly as the Buckeyes seemed to be crawling their way back into the game, the Spartans, playing with the confidence of a top five team backed by a crowd fueled by post-Rose Bowl victory euphoria. 

LaQuinton Ross, who only attempted two shots in the first half, missed his first three looks of the second. He finally got on the board in the second half when he stepped to the line after being fouled shooting a three from the left wing. 

Ross made two of three, but the Spartans came right back at them, first with an Adreian Payne dunk, then a Harris jumper in transition, then yet another emphatic Payne dunk. It's difficult to say that a top five team is done with over 10 minutes left in a game, but, down 48-34, it certainly seemed that way. 

When the Spartans went up 55-38 with just under eight minutes remaining, the Buckeyes seemed destined to take their first loss of the season without much of a fight. 

But, with the Spartans looking to run some clock out on the perimeter, OSU's guard turned up the heat, forcing turnovers that yielded points. Somehow, the Buckeyes managed to cut the deficit to just eight, 57-49, with three minutes left to play. 

An alley opp dunk by OSU's Sam Thompson cut the deficit to six out of the timeout, and a Craft and-1 on the next cut it to three. Just liked that, the persistent Buckeyes trimmed the deficit by 14 points in about six minutes of play. 

The Buckeyes got the ball back after Craft dove on the loose ball like a receiver laying out for a pass, and, on the ensuing inbound, Craft bounced it off of Payne's back and went to the rim for two. OSU then tied it shortly thereafter when Amir Williams slammed home a Craft miss. 

The Spartans then held the ball for the final possession but couldn't even get a shot; OSU's Shannon Scott stole the ball and streaked down the court looking to score before time expired. 

Luckily for the reeling Spartans, Scott couldn't finish, and the two teams headed for overtime after the game seemed all but over with eight minutes left to play. 

Back-to-back threes from Kenny Kaminski and Payne gave the Spartans a four-point lead with just under two minutes left to play, putting the pressure back on the Buckeyes' shoulders. 

The Spartans held a 69-68 lead with 16.3 seconds left. Appling buried both of his shots at the line, and the Buckeyes got the ball with a chance to tie and send the game to another overtime period. 

Craft dished to Marc Loving at the left wing, who then forced up an off-balanced three that fell off the mark. The Buckeyes battled back valiantly, but couldn't get the final bucket they needed to keep the game going. 

From the other perspective, the Spartans played 32 minutes of outstanding basketball--well, defensively at least. The last eight minutes probably won't make it into MSU's official athletics website's highlight video for this game. 

But, to the Spartans' credit, they pulled it together in overtime hitting big shots and playing decent enough defense on OSU's final offensive possession. 

With the win, the Spartans moved to 14-1 (3-0) on the season, while the Buckeyes took their first loss of the season. A loss is a loss, but the Buckeyes showed quite a bit of gumption in taking this game to overtime after playing so poorly for most of the game. 

When do these two teams meet again? The last game of the season, March 9, in Columbus. Mark your calendars. 

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