No. 8 Spartans defeat No. 14 Buckeyes for first time on road since 2016
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It almost happened again. But Michigan State coach Tom Izzo sees the difference between this season and last.
There was sloppiness; turnovers, a lack of defense, and a hostile Ohio State crowd to bury the Spartans after every mistake. But No. 8 MSU (13-2, 4-0 Big Ten) overcame a 12-2 run late in the first half Saturday and shot 76.5 percent from the floor in the second half to defeat No. 14 OSU in front of a sold-out Schottenstein Center on Saturday afternoon, 86-77.
The win comes nearly a year to the day the Spartans were routed in Columbus last season, 80-64, on Jan. 5, 2018 and ends a two-game skid against the road against the Buckeyes. It also extends MSU’s current win streak to eight games.
“I thought our experience helped a little bit in our second half,” Izzo said. “I was a little disappointed in the first half, defensively.”
Cassius Winston tied Ohio State forward Kaleb Wesson for the game-high with 25 points, of which 18 came in the second half. Nick Ward, a suburban Columbus native from Gahanna, finished second behind Winston with 21 points, seven rebounds and three blocks.
The win marks the first at the Schottenstein Center since the 2015-16 season and the first for Ward and Winston. But Ward said the win felt even sweeter to do it in front of friends and family.
“It felt so good,” Ward said, smiling.
Wesson was one of five Buckeyes to end in double figures, despite fouling out with under two minutes to play. Kaleb, along with brother Andre Wesson and Luther Mohammed, each fouled out, helping MSU finish 30-for-37 from the free throw line.
The Buckeyes went on a 10-0 run with 2:45 before halftime to take a 38-31 lead. The spurt, similar to OSU’s 12-0 run under two minutes last season, started with three straight scores from the Wessen brothers – of which five points from free throws.
In MSU’s next two possessions, turnovers from Kenny Goins and Winston turned into additional OSU scores in the form of a Kaleb Wesson spinning layup and 3-pointer for Duane Washington. The Spartans cut it to a 40-36 game with under 40 seconds left till halftime with a 3 from Kyle Ahrens, but Kaleb Wesson’s only 3-pointer of the game lifted the Buckeyes to a 43-36 halftime lead.
Izzo said it was fundamental mistakes he saw the Spartans make on the defensive end which allowed the game to nearly grow out of hand.
“I thought we were a joke,” he said. “We just did not cover. Loose balls, long rebounds, they got everything. That is intolerable for me.”
“You don’t win on the road in this league without your defense.”
The Spartans’ second-half surge seemed even more surprising after ending the first half shooting 41.4 percent from the floor and 28.6 percent from deep on 14 tries, below their respective first-half averages of 49.4 and 38.2.
With Ward and Winston now juniors, both admit they learned a lot from games the last two seasons. Winston said the difference between last season and Saturday was experience.
“This year we knew what we were capable of, we knew what it took to win the game,” Winston said. “Last year we didn’t know. We were going to play hard, figure it out as we go. But this year, we know it takes two or three stops, or we know we have to get the ball on our side.”
The win also improves MSU to 2-1 on the road. The Spartans fell to Louisville, 82-78, in overtime on Nov. 27, and defeated Florida on Dec. 8, 63-58.
Izzo believes both road games helped make the win over the Buckeyes easier. But with four of the next six on the road in what Izzo calls a highly-competitive Big Ten, Saturday’s win holds more weight with conference play in full swing.
“Yet, going on the road in the Big Ten is different than going on the road at Louisville or Florida,” Izzo said. “It’s just different. But I think going on the road against some pretty good teams helped this team.”
Key play Kyle
Ahrens gave MSU a 60-59 lead at the 10:27 mark after running a wide open lane at the top of the key for a two-handed dunk. The Spartans extended the edge to a 64-59 edge until back-to-back scores tied the game with 7:48 to play.
Ahrens, who grew up about 100 miles from Columbus and whose brother — Justin — plays for OSU, gave the Spartans perhaps its game-winning basket with a layup under the basket and a 77-72 lead with 1:07 left. Ohio State missed 4 of its next 6 from the field for the remainder of the game.
Izzo, Ward and Winston all agreed the dunk was the play of the game. Ahrens said he was happy to do it in front of his parents.
“I was just going to give it my all because it was winning time, it was the end of the game,” Ahrens said. “…
“There are so many emotions going through your head when you play your little brother, all the hours you put in together. You’re always on a team then all of a sudden you’re on opposite teams.”
Langford still out
Shooting guard Joshua Langford was out for the second consecutive game with a left ankle injury. Izzo said postgame that Langford met with a specialist, who confirmed Langford did not have a stress fracture or a break. Per Izzo, Langford will undergo treatment the next two weeks to get a clearer idea if the co-captain’s ankle responds. A timetable for return is still unknown, but Izzo said he doesn’t expect it any time soon.
“I feel a little more comfortable today he’ll respond to that treatment, but I also feel he’s going to miss some time,” Izzo said.
The Spartans are off until Tuesday, when Purdue (9-5, 2-1) comes to the Breslin Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 9 p.m.