As the Ohio State basketball team inches closer to the end of its regular season, it has been in constant search of two things: a second reliable scoring option to Deshaun Thomas and another signature win.
On Sunday, the No. 18 Buckeyes got both.
Junior point guard Aaron Craft, doing much of his damage driving to the rim, scored a career-high 21 points to lift Ohio State to a 68-60 victory over No. 4 Michigan State in front of a sold out Value City Arena crowd.
“Aaron Craft was more aggressive than I have ever seen him trying to score,” Spartans head coach Tom Izzo said. “He tore us apart. He beat us every way he could beat us.”
Whether Craft’s newfound aggressiveness on the offensive end was a counter to Michigan State’s defensive pressure or just the result of simply wanting to lead Ohio State (20-7, 10-5 Big Ten) to only its second victory over a ranked team in nine tries, the point guard was too much for the Spartans to overcome.
Add in Thomas’ 14 points – 12 of which were scored in the second half – and 10 from senior big man Evan Ravenel, and Ohio State (had enough to earn a victory that sent the message the team has been trying to convey since being blown out on the road by Wisconsin 71-49 last Sunday.
“We still have a lot to fight for and a lot to play for,” Craft told BSB after the game. “We know what we’re capable of when we play as a team, and what we did (against Michigan State) is just proof that we can play with anybody. We still have a lot to of work to do.”
Ohio State’s chances at earning at least a share of its fourth consecutive conference title were all but dead heading into the game, but the win was detrimental to the Spartans’ (22-6, 11-4) hopes of catching No. 1 Indiana.
Freshman Gary Harris had 14 points and Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix both scored 12 for Michigan State, who have now lost their second consecutive game since losing to Indiana in East Lansing on Tuesday. Michigan State has now fallen two games behind the Hoosiers in the Big Ten race with only three games remaining in the regular season.
The Buckeyes’ are still hoping to earn a first round bye in the Big Ten Tournament, but they must get into fourth place in the standings. As it sits now, OSU is half game behind third place teams Wisconsin and Michigan.
Most importantly to head coach Thad Matta is whether the Buckeyes have completely turned the page since last week’s blowout at Wisconsin, one that both he and his players have referred to as embarrassing multiple times in the seven days since.
“I hope it propels us in terms of guys trusting the system and just their belief in themselves,” said Matta, who got to the 20-win plateau for the 13th time in as many years as he’s been a head coach with the victory. “We are getting down to the nitty-gritty of college basketball. The adversity they had to fight through today and what they’ve had to overcome, I am really proud of them. We’ll see if it pays off.”
Michigan State scored the final six points of the first half to open up a 31-25 lead at halftime, and Harris started the second half by burying a three to quickly extend the Spartans’ lead to nine.
A three by Thomas made the score 36-30 with 17:55 remaining in the game, then back-to-back layups by Craft helped spark a 24-5 run that turned a nine-point Ohio State deficit into a 10-point lead.
The run was capped by another layup from Craft to make the score 51-41 with 9:41 remaining in the game. Ohio State scored on nine of its 11 possessions during the decisive run.
“I just think that at this time of the year we need to find something to get rolling,” Craft said. “Getting a win like this against a great team like Michigan State can kind of help moving forward, hopefully.”
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