Ohio State kept their NCAA tourney hopes alive with a crushing 28-9 run over the final 12 minutes to capture a 63-54 victory over #18 Michigan State this afternoon in the Schott.
Senior Jamar Butler led the Buckeyes with 20 points including a perfect 8/8 from the stripe during the decisive burst. His biggest free throws gave OSU their first lead, 53-52, with just over 4 minutes to play and his final two capped the 100th victory of his, Wiggler's and Matta's (OSU) career.
David Lighty also came up big recording 12 points on a perfect 5/5 from the floor with 5 rebounds and a huge block of a Drew Neitzel's layup opportunity after Lighty was beaten badly on a backdoor cut. The defensive play ignited the crowd although they had to overcome an unwanted delay in the action after the shot clocks crapped out for the second consecutive game.
Down low, Othello Hunter followed up his strong showing against Purdue (15pt, 6reb, 3blk) with 13 points (6/9 FG), 4 o-boards, 2 steals and 2 dimes. The O-Hawk was huge down the stretch going 3/3 in the final five minutes with a tip-in and two dunks, one on a follow up of a Kosta Koufos miss extending OSU's lead to 59-54 with :55 left. That dunk and Lighty's block were easily the plays of the game in my mind.
Not coincidentally, give Thad some credit for ordering up the 2-2-1 three-quarter court press at about the 10 minute mark of the second half. The press forced Sparty into sloopy turnovers (17 total) including two shot clock violations in the last 4 minutes. The extra possessions, hot shooting (23/46 FG) and a 9 point edge at the stripe helped the Buckeyes offset a ridiculous 30-18 rebounding edge for Izzo's squad.
The Buckeyes trailed 31-23 at intermission after cutting the lead to 24-19 on a Butler three at 7:33 but could only muster 4 more points in the final 7 minutes shooting a frigid 2/8 with 3 turnovers.
The Spartans kept the momentum to start the second half extending their lead to as much as 12 before a 10-2 OSU run cut the lead to 37-33 with 15:39 remaining before MSU responded with an 8-2 run of their own to set up OSU's closing 28-9 blitzkrieg.
The victory gives OSU back to back wins over ranked opponents but they'll definitely need to beat Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament on Friday (2:30pm ESPN). If the Buckeyes pull that off, they'll still likely need a win over Wisconsin on Saturday to have a realistic shot to secure a dance bid. Many 'experts' have said it might even take a conference tournament championship to earn a berth.
Koufos was the only other Buckeye in double figures (11pts, 3reb) while Raymar Morgan paced MSU with 19 points and 6 rebounds.