Spartans Snap Buckeyes’ Home Winning Streak, Tie Big Ten Lead
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — With four minutes to play and Ohio State trailing Michigan State by eight points, Jared Sullinger went up for a basket against former AAU teammate Adreian Payne.
It looked like Sullinger was hacked on his way to the rim, but a charge call sent Value City Arena into a frenzy of boos. OSU head coach Thad Matta looked daze and confused while Jared’s dad, Satch, glared at the court with his hands on his hips.
None of them are used to what happened Saturday night in Columbus.
For the first time in 40 games, the Buckeyes (21-4, 9-3) fell on their home floor, 58-48, to Michigan State (20-5, 9-3), and in the process blew a chance for a two-game lead in the Big Ten standings.
“I feel fortunate because they missed some shots that they normally make, but I think our defense is about as good as it can get,” Michigan State Tom Izzo said after his team snapped Ohio State’s 39-game home win streak.
“I don’t feel any different than I did a month ago, or six months ago. Ohio State’s the best team in the league, and that doesn’t change anything.”
Ohio State opened the game with a 9-4 lead, but both teams struggled to find a rhythm offensively. Sullinger finished with a triple-double, but not the kind he will put on his résumé. The Buckeyes’ star sophomore grabbed a season-high 16 rebounds to go with 17 points, but also turned the ball over 10 times in the loss.
“Most of the turnovers I had were me going up for shots,” Sullinger said.
“I wasn’t expecting the double (coverage) because that’s not what Michigan State shows on the film. They dig but they don’t dig like they did today. We have to give them credit, they had a great plan and they stuck to their system. That’s what happens when you stick to your system.”
It did not help that Sullinger’s teammates were largely ineffective against the Spartan defense. The Buckeyes shot just 26.4 percent from the floor and made only two of their 15 shots behind the arc. They closed the rebounding gap to 37-34 in favor of Michigan State, but the Spartans dominated the game inside, outscoring Ohio State 30-12 in the paint.
“You have to make a shot, have to put the ball in the basket,” Matta said.
“Some of the looks we had down the stretch were rough. I’m not taking anything away from Michigan State; they had a lot to do with it. I thought our defense we good enough, but you can’t shoot 25 percent.”
Sophomore point guard Aaron Craft scored 15 points and played lockdown defense on MSU point guard Keith Appling for most of the night, but Deshaun Thomas and William Buford combined for just 12 points on 4-of-24 shooting. They were 0-of-7 behind the arc and totaled three rebounds and one assist.
“I thought Ohio State missed some shots that I see them normally make. We had to run them to wear them down a bit. It was physical inside both ways,” Izzo added.
“Deshaun Thomas didn’t have his best game and neither did Buford, so everything fell on poor Sullinger.”
Inside, the Spartans got 15 points and four rebounds from Payne, a former teammate of both Sullinger and Craft on the “All Ohio Red” AAU team. Payne was 6-for-6 from the floor and added four rebounds in 20 minutes while splitting time with Derrick Nix.
Izzo called it the best game of Payne’s career at Michigan State. The Spartans also got 14 points from Appling, who also had seven turnovers, and 12 from Draymond Green. The biggest difference in the game may have been the rebound boost they got from Branden Dawson (8) and Brandon Wood (7), two guys who aren’t known for their rebounding.
“We tried to wear them down by running our offense. It wasn’t our defense. We just kept telling our big guys to sprint on the break, even if it’s not there,” Izzo said.
“They have depth, just not as much as they have in other years. Our offensive game plan was that the bigs run even if they’re not on a break; just force running defensively. I thought we did ok. I thought they got the ball on the block a little more than I thought they should. They missed a couple more threes than I’ve seen them miss on a regular basis.”
It was a season-altering victory for the Spartans, who would have fallen two games back in the race for the Big Ten title with just six games to play. Instead, they are tied with Ohio State atop the conference standings and they will host the Buckeyes in East Lansing in the regular-season finale on March 4.
“It’s got to be a learning experience for a relatively young basketball team,” Matta said about his message to the team.
“We have to look at why we didn’t play well and get those things corrected. First and foremost you have to stay together. We’re still sitting at the top of the conference. As I told them, ‘hey we’ll see what kind of team we have tomorrow when we come back for practice.’ ”
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