Chicago — A rematch of last year’s Big Ten Tournament title game wasn’t without controversy, as a late flagrant foul and a dominant second half from Aaron Craft helped lift the Buckeyes.
Unable to overcome second half offensive inefficiency, the No. 8 MSU men’s basketball team (25-8) fell to No. 10 Ohio State (25-7), 61-58, in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament.
The Buckeyes will advance to face Wisconsin tomorrow afternoon for the Big Ten Tournament title.
The early moments were defined by outside shooting, as the Buckeyes traded threes with junior guard Keith Appling on consecutive possessions.
The Spartans then turned to their bigs, with back-to-back buckets down low from senior center Derrick Nix, followed by another 3-pointer, this time from Payne, extending MSU’s lead to six, 13-7, with 14:06 to go in the first half.
The trio paced the Spartans, with Nix leading the charge, scoring 17 points with nine rebounds, while Appling poured in 16 points and Payne added 12 points and eight rebounds.
The rest of MSU’s team combined for 13 points on 5-for-20 shooting (25 percent).
But a pair of defensive lapses allowed the Buckeyes to claw back into the game, first on an inbounds play where forward Evan Ravenel got an uncontested dunk and later when guard Aaron Craft blew by the Spartan defense for an easy layup to make it a one possession game.
The defensive breakdowns sparked a 12-2 Ohio State run, highlighted by a pair 3-pointers from forward LaQuniton Ross to give Ohio State its first lead, 19-15, midway through the first half.
MSU answered with a quick 6-0 spurt to briefly regain the lead, before a three from forward Deshaun Thomas pushed Ohio State back out in front.
Thomas’ bucket would begin a 9-2 run, giving the Buckeyes their largest lead of the half, 28-23, before MSU closed the half with six straight points, including four from Nix to take a 29-28 lead into the locker room.
Thomas scored seven of the team’s nine points during the Buckeyes’ rally, before finishing with a game-high 16 points and seven rebounds on 6-for-19 shooting, including 2-of-11 from beyond the arc.
After failing to attempting a single free throw in the first half, it was the charity stripe that kept MSU in the game during the opening minutes of the second half.
MSU got to the line 11 times in the opening eight minutes of the second half, connecting on 10, to hang around as they struggled to hit outside shots.
MSU hit just three of its first 18 shots (16.6 percent) to open the second half, with 10 of the team’s first 18 points coming from the free throw line.
Yet one person who had no problems getting shots to fall was Craft.
The Buckeye guard caught fire, powering Ohio State with 17 second half points on 8-of-11 shooting, after scoring only two points and attempting two shots in the first half.
Powered by Craft, Ohio State surged to its largest lead, 55-47, with 7:13 to go, a lead they would maintain for the next four minutes.
Needing a basket, a long rebound found its way to Appling, who sized up a critical three, his fourth of the night, to cut Ohio State’s lead to four, 57-53, with 3:24 remaining, prompting an immediate MSU timeout.
The Spartans then turned to their lone senior who came through with a spinning layup while being fouled. Nix converted the 3-point play to bring MSU within one, 57-56, with 1:54 to go.
But on the ensuing possession, Nix was called for a flagrant foul when Craft drove through the lane and was hit in the head, turning the tide in Ohio State’s favor.
Craft hit one of two free throws to extend the lead to two, and after MSU failed to secure the defensive rebound, the Buckeyes capitalized with a mid-range jumper from Thomas to give Ohio State a 60-56 lead with 18.6 seconds left, sealing the victory.