CHICAGO — The heroics of freshman point guard Foster Loyer mostly took place in the first half, but top-seeded Michigan State (26-6, 16-4 Big Ten) used a familiar formula to pull away from eighth-seeded Ohio State (19-14, 8-12 Big Ten) Friday afternoon at the United Center. The Spartans went on two big second-half runs keyed by the Big Ten Player of the Year, Cassius Winston, and beat the Buckeyes for the third time this season, 77-70.
The win was the 600th of MSU Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo’s storied career.
"It means good things: you're getting old, and you're 600 shy of (Duke coach) Mike Krzyzewski and (Syracuse coach) Jim Boeheim," Izzo said of the accomplishment.
Winston led MSU with 18 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes, but his backup was the story.
In the first half, Winston struggled and was taken out of the game on two separate occasions for failing to play adequate defense, as well as committing three turnovers. Tom Izzo gave him an earful on the bench both times, but his understudy, Loyer, gave the Spartans big minutes in his absence.
Loyer hit four three-pointers and drew a charge on Ohio State senior guard Keyshawn Woods, bringing the pro-MSU crowd to its feet. Though he had not made a three-point basket since Jan. 13 at Penn State, Loyer did not miss from the field in nine first-half minutes. He finished with 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the field.
"It was a great feeling," Loyer said. "I shot the ball well early … and when that first one went in, I knew I might be able to put a couple more in."
Winston at one point encouraged Izzo to leave Loyer in the game.
"You saw me — you know I was going crazy for him," Winston said. "Like I said, I know what that feels like."
Ohio State went on a quick 8-0 run early in the second half to take a 40-38 lead, highlighted by a wide-open three by sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson with 16:51 left, but the Spartans responded emphatically.
Wesson was called for a flagrant 1 foul for an elbow to the head of MSU senior guard Matt McQuaid with 16:30 remaining, helping to begin an 11-2 Spartan run to give MSU a 49-42 lead at the 13:44 mark, which it would not relinquish. He fouled out with 9:42 remaining, prompting a near-immediate MSU run.
"It's tough getting into a rhythm," Wesson said, of his foul trouble. "You think everything is going well and then the game stops. It's hard to get back into a rhythm again."
After a three by sophomore guard Musa Jallow cut MSU’s lead to 57-49 at the 9:03 mark, Winston led the Spartans on an 18-5 run to seal the victory.
It began with a four-point play by the Detroit native, followed in quick succession by a lob to freshman forward Aaron Henry for a dunk. Senior forward Kenny Goins knocked down a three after great ball rotation from the Spartans, and when the run was over, MSU led 75-54 with 4:21 remaining.
The Buckeyes did not go away quietly, scoring 16 straight points in a four-minute span to end the game, and force the Spartans to re-insert starters to close out the game. Woods led OSU with 16 points.
After his talking-to from Izzo, Winston responded. He scored all eight of his first-half points in the final 3:30, including a step-back jumper with 20 seconds remaining to give the Spartans the 36-30 lead they held at the break. Izzo said postgame that Winston sprained an unspecified toe last Saturday against Michigan, and was not at full strength.
"Everybody is wondering why I took him out," Izzo said. "It was some bad play but more because of what he's gone through."
Junior forward Nick Ward was strong in his return from a hairline fracture in his left hand suffered Feb. 17 against Ohio State. He scored five points in seven first-half minutes, but was substituted after being called for a flagrant foul while being triple-teamed in the low post.
The Spartans will take on the winner of fourth-seeded Wisconsin and thirteenth-seeded Nebraska on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. Eastern. Ohio State awaits their fate- ESPN’s Joe Lunardi lists the Buckeyes as one of the “Last Four In.”