Spartans prepare to face Buckeyes
In the final, regular season game of the 2011-12 season, Ohio State was in the business of breaking hearts.
And unfortunately for the then-No. 5 MSU men’s basketball team, business was as good as it could be.
A competitive first half effort melted away when guard/forward Branden Dawson fell to the ground, writhing in a fit of furious pain.
The result left the Spartans without Dawson for the postseason and much of the summer as he suffered a torn left anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL.
To add insult to a season-ending injury, Buckeyes’ guard William Buford drained a shot with one second remaining to seal the game, and steal the outright Big Ten championship from the Spartans. It was as big a punch to the gut as the team had felt all season.
It’s a feeling junior guard Keith Appling remembers vividly.
“We had an opportunity to win the Big Ten championship outright in the regular season, and they came in and crushed those dreams of ours,” Appling said. “At the end of the day, it’s a new year, and it’s a fresh start. We’re gonna try to make the most out of it.”
As the No. 11 Buckeyes (13-3 overall, 3-1 Big Ten) return Saturday to Breslin Center for the first time since Buford’s shot (6 p.m., ESPN), the No. 18 Spartans (15-3, 4-1) will have to be just as prepared this time around.
Even without the departed Buford and center Jared Sullinger, the Buckeyes come loaded with arguably the most potent scorer in the Big Ten — junior forward Deshaun Thomas.
Entering the matchup, Thomas leads the conference in scoring with 20.3 points per game and is eighth overall in rebounding with 6.6 boards a night.
In preparing for the Buckeyes, MSU head coach Tom Izzo said he watched all three matchups against the team from last season, including the Big Ten Tournament title game where the Spartans defeated the Buckeyes 68-64.
Still, Izzo cautions the team’s style of play differs from a season ago with the change in on-court personnel.
“You know, it’s a different team and they do some different things,” Izzo said. “Last year’s team almost always went to the post first, and this year’s team almost never does first. You know, you can still see some tendencies, and do some things and run a few different things because they’re a different team.”
One person ready for another shot at the Buckeyes is junior center Adreian Payne.
As Izzo replaces freshman guard Denzel Valentine with Payne in the starting lineup, the Dayton, Ohio native has a big opportunity against his home-state Buckeyes.
Payne also was a former AAU teammate with Sullinger, which fueled the fire of past battles between the two teams.
Coming off a team-high 20-point performance Wednesday against Penn State — all coming in the second half after serving a first half suspension — Payne could be a main factor against one of the top teams in the conference.
And according to senior center Derrick Nix, Payne will be ready to play.
“There’s just something against Ohio State that (Payne), I don’t know, just turns the switch on (in) his head,” Nix said. “He just thinks ‘dominate.’ He’s been playing like that, and hopefully he gets the carry-over.”
Oh captain, my third captain
After a season of speculation, it appears Nix and sophomore guard Russell Byrd might soon have company as team captains of the Spartans.
The Spartans are planning to meet on Thursday night to decide whether Keith Appling will become the team’s third captain.
The junior guard and Detroit native Appling leads the team in scoring with 13.7 points per contest and has become an increasingly vocal figure on the court.
After practice on Thursday, Izzo said he was “80 percent sure” Appling would be named a captain, but wanted to meet the team to discuss the matter.
As far as Appling is concerned, he said he hopes he can bring a different look in the team’s leadership department.
“You know, I will try to bring the intensity and vocal leadership on the floor a little bit,” Appling said. “Both of those guys, they kind of bring a combination of in the locker room and on the floor. It’s just a little something different that I’m going to try to bring to the table.”