Indianapolis — Before the MSU men’s basketball team took on Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament final Sunday, “PPTPWC” was written on the white board in the Spartan locker room.
An acronym that stands for “players play, tough players win championships,” the phrase was MSU’s mantra heading into Sunday’s game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. And, by beating the Buckeyes 68-64 in a physical championship game for the ages, the Spartans practiced what they preached.
“We didn’t want to get punched,” sophomore center Adreian Payne said. “That’s what we’re made of. It was a dog fight, and we weren’t going to let them come in and punch us in the face. We knew we had to grind, and that’s what we did.”
MSU battled its way to the win behind senior guard Brandon Wood’s 21 points and a gritty team effort on defense, giving the Spartans their first Big Ten Tournament title since 2000 and their first No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament since 2001.
“This was a big win for us, because it kind of validates that we belong,” head coach Tom Izzo said.
Sunday’s final was a rough affair from the opening tip, with both teams scrapping on defense and looking inside on offense. MSU forced Ohio State into turnovers on each of their first two possessions, while Buckeye guard Aaron Craft made life difficult for the Spartans, using his quick hands to create three early turnovers.
Payne said Sunday’s game was more of a battle than last weekend’s loss to Ohio State, which forced the Spartans into a tie with the Buckeyes and Michigan for the Big Ten Championship.
“This game, it was physical,” said Payne, who scored six points, grabbed five rebounds and blocked a career-high four shots. “The refs weren’t calling anything. But this is the Big Ten. That’s what the Big Ten is about: being strong, going up and playing through fouls.”
Down 30-29 with a little more than three minutes to play in the half, MSU went on a 5-0 run, sparked by a 3-pointer from freshman guard Travis Trice.
However, Craft ended the run with an offensive rebound and putback. Izzo thought senior forward Draymond Green was fouled on the play and picked up a technical foul for voicing his displeasure.
After the first 20 minutes, MSU led 34-32, setting up a second half that was more intense than the first.
About six minutes into the half, the Spartans found themselves trailing 52-45. And to make matters worse, Green — the Big Ten Player of the Year — injured himself trying to take a charge that left him “dazed and woozy.”
But that’s when Wood stepped in and knocked down two of his four 3-pointers, helping MSU to a 10-0 run. Junior center Derrick Nix delivered a dunk, and freshman guard Brandan Kearney added a putback, putting the Spartans ahead 55-52.
“It’s not all Draymond, Draymond, Draymond like some people think,” Green said. “I played awful today, but we won the game because guys stepped up.”
Green shot 4-for-15 on the day, but did hit one of the biggest shots of the game.
With the Spartans leading 67-62 with 1:26 to play, Green drilled a 3-pointer to put the game out of reach.
Wood’s 21 points led all scorers, while Green chipped in with 12 and Nix added 10.
Green said after the game that Sunday’s win doesn’t change anything in regard to sharing the regular season title.
But senior guard Austin Thornton, who hit a free throw with 12 seconds to play that sealed the win, said it does take the sting out of what happened last Sunday.
“There is no doubt about it,” Thornton said. “We wanted some vindication for the way they came into our place and beat us in that situation. And we were able to do it today.”