East Lansing, MI
It was the best crowd inside the Breslin in years. One hour before the game the lower bowl Izzone was on fire and with ten minutes until tip off, even Manti Teo’s girlfriend wouldn’t have got a seat. The Spartan Nation showed up in force and a national TV audience saw it.
With nearly 20 Michigan State football recruits in the Breslin Center, today had all the necessary ingredients to be special: #17 Michigan State vs. #11 Ohio State. Both teams with one loss in the Big Ten and three on the year told the story. For the Spartans the game was much bigger, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a monster for both teams.
If the Buckeyes could steal a win on the road, or MSU could hold home court, both would keep their slim odds at a Big Ten title alive. OSU could lose and still have one. MSU could not. Mathematically they would not be out of the race, but in reality they would.
Each possession played like a soap opera, each possession was so valuable and each possession felt like a heavyweight bout. It was.
When MSU took the 42-36 lead on a Branden Dawson lay in, Thad Matta, Ohio State head coach had to take a timeout. The Breslin Center found a way to get louder. With thunderous approval the Spartan Nation shared their pleasure in what was a deafening roar. That was the moment that MSU had a chance to blow the game open.
Matta’s Bucks responded by coming out and nailing a three pointer to bring the game closer at 42-39. That was the game in a nutshell. It was a battle royal that had two good teams separated only by a home court advantage.
By the time they reached the third media timeout of the second half, the Buckeyes had cut the Spartans once seven point lead to two at 46-44. Buckeye Shannon Scott made his free throw to pull within one coming out of the timeout and once again the barn burner was on. 46-45 MSU lead.
With 2:54 on the clock and the Breslin at its epicenter of thunderous cheering to that point, Deshaun Thomas for the Buckeyes nailed a three for his 26th point in the game and more importantly for the Buckeyes, a tie game at 50.
Izzo called a timeout with 2:33 on the clock and the leaderless Spartans had to respond. Branden Dawson immediately had a turnover followed by a Buckeye timeout and at 2:20 point we had our final media timeout of regulation.
Who would step up? There is no doubt that the Spartans have the talent to compete, but lacking a leader, who wanted to be the hero? Who wanted to take the team on their back? Adreian Payne came out and immediately made an old fashion three point play and with the Izzone screaming for the crowd to stand up, what happened next made this game monumental.
Senior captain Derrick Nix pounded the floor demanding emotion from his teammates and the Spartans got a humongous stop on defense. That was negated by a Spartan turnover (their 12th on the night) and Ohio State promptly came down and pulled the game to within two at 53-51 with 1:15 on the clock.
When Adreian Payne and Keith Appling connected for unlucky turnover #13, OSU went on the attack. Deshaun Thomas again made them bother and with :57 on the clock the game was once again tied. This time at 53.
With :37 on the game clock and :32 on the shot clock Buckeye head coach That Matta called a timeout. Would he play for the three or the tie? Matta’s bucks showed their hand early. They went right for the three and when it went out of bounds, Ohio State took another timeout with :25 left in the game and the shot clock and they had possession.
When Aaron Craft missed a wide open three, Keith Appling took it right down the court in high gear and gave his Spartans the 57-53 lead. The Buckeyes took the Spartans punch and answered with a three to make the score 57-56. With :10 left on the clock the Spartans had the ball and the one point lead.
After fouling Keith Appling made two free throws to enlarge the Spartans lead to 59-56 and with just seven seconds on the clock the Buckeyes were under the microscope. They couldn’t connect on a final shot and the Spartans won 59-56.
The MVP of this game had to be the crowd. There was no way that the Spartans win this game without them. Buckeye head coach Thad Matta said of the crowd, “Tremendous crowd. All the times we have been up here they do a tremendous job in terms of loudness. Thumbs up! We have been in some tremendous environments and obviously this was one of them.”
Izzo echoed Matta’s praise of the fans. He added, “It’s always been good, but that was an extra best. The crowd wins game for you and tonight they did a heck of a job. The crowd helped carry those guys who were tired through.”
Buckeye head coach Thad Matta said of this instant classic, “You’ve got what I would consider two of the top college basketball programs going head to head. I have brought some great teams in here and Tom has brought some great teams down to Columbus. I think we’ve won five of the last seven Big Ten championships and what we didn’t they did, or we tied. You have two great college basketball programs…There have been some unbelievable battles in here. ”
Izzo shared the same admiration for this battle. He said, “I don’t know if it was pretty to watch or not, but it was a helluva game. I need Keith to learn he has to play that way in the first 35 minutes. We got to get him to play the full game. That will show some character when you can fall back and get back on your feet. 5-1 (the Spartans B1G record now) is great. It was a war and we came out on top.”
MSU shot 44% for the game while holding OSU to 40%. The Spartans dominated the boards with a 35-25 advantage and Keith Appling lead MSU with 15 points, while Adreian Payne added 14. Branden Dawson chipped in 10 rebounds and nine points.
MSU men’s basketball SID Matt Larson gave me some interesting facts. Think about these: Under Tom Izzo, MSU is now 125-21 (.856) in Big Ten games at the Breslin Center. The Spartans have now won 29 of its last 30 home games. Dominating facts.
The Spartans head to the road now for two monster games in the next eight days. Tuesday night they will be in Madison to take on the Badgers on CBS and a week from Sunday in Bloomington, Indiana to take on Tom Crean and the Indiana Hoosiers on ESPN.