In one of the ugliest performances of the season, No. 11 Michigan State (21-5, 12-3 Big Ten) survived an upset bid from the tough Ohio State Buckeyes (16-9, 6-8 Big Ten), 62-44. Senior guard Matt McQuaid led the Spartans with 14 points, including two big shots during the run that decided the game.
Junior forward Nick Ward was in and out of the lineup in the second half due to a left hand injury, junior point guard Cassius Winston and sophomore forward Xavier Tillman were in foul trouble, and the talented Spartan freshmen seemed to not have the eyes for the game.
"When we have those weird lineups, we just got to play together. That's the best way to put it," senior guard Matt McQuaid said.
While the stars were on the sidelines, the three most experienced players on the Spartan team keyed the deciding 20-2 run that ended the game. McQuaid hit two threes, bookending a drawn charge, while senior forward Kenny Goins knocked down a triple and redshirt junior forward Kyle Ahrens hit a three in the corner that sent a nervous Breslin Center into hysterics.
"You got a fifth-year senior (Goins), and you got a fourth-year senior (McQuaid). I think there is a calmness about them," Tom Izzo said postgame.
An Ohio State team that ran good offensive action in the first half was completely controlled in the second half, scoring only 13 points with 19 percent shooting.
"I think at times we could have moved (the ball) better. I think at times we looked a little bit slow out there, in terms of our pace," Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said postgame.
The beginning of the second half was ugly, by and large, as the usual stars for each team failed to make their typical impact. Winston fell into foul trouble and only made one second-half shot. Sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson was quiet as well, as the Buckeyes failed to enter the ball to him.
"At halftime, I think everybody made a commitment that we have to guard better. We're gonna have days where the ball doesn't go in," Izzo said. "The better we guarded, the better our break got, the better the ball went in, a little bit."
Ohio State closed the first half on a 7-0 run to take a 31-25 lead into the locker room. The half epitomized the proverbial “game of runs.” The Buckeyes had a 6-0 run coming out of the under-eight media timeout to go along with two 7-0 runs, while the Spartans went on an 8-0 run just before it.
Wesson led the Buckeyes with 12 points, but only had four in the second half, while staying out of foul trouble, a perceived key for the big man. Ward, a fellow Ohio native, scored nine, but did not score in four second-half minutes. The difference in the half was at the wing positions, where junior forward Andre Wesson, sophomore guard Musa Jallow and senior guard C.J. Jackson all made positive contributions, outdoing McQuaid, freshman forward Aaron Henry, and Ahrens.
"I was really disappointed in (Ahrens) the first half," Izzo said. "But Kyle's a tough kid, he took those charges, we all know he's got a bad back. But he hit two big shots too, and I think it's important that we get Kyle back."
In the end, the Buckeyes ran out of gas offensively, as the experienced Spartans made the difference.
"Me and McQuaid were out there kind of talking back and forth to all these young guys, and give them credit for being responsive," Goins said.
The Spartans host Rutgers (12-13, 5-10 Big Ten) on Wednesday, while the Buckeyes return home to face Northwestern (12-13, 3-11 Big Ten) the same day.