Another Sunday, another thriller on the hard court in the Big Ten.
This time it was in the great state of Ohio, as No. 18 Ohio State used a brilliant second half from Academic All-American Aaron Craft to down No. 4 Michigan State 68-60 while further clouding the already murky Big Ten Conference tournament-seeding picture.
The Spartans (22-6) jumped out to a 31-25 halftime lead after a 6-0 run to close out the second quarter. With all the momentum heading into the break, Tom Izzo's squad looked poised to escape Value City Arena with a huge road win.
But Craft and the Buckeyes (20-7) had other ideas.
Ohio State jumped out to a 10-point lead in the second half and managed to hold off a late Spartan rally (including a nasty three-point play from Michigan State freshman Gary Harris) to pick up a huge conference win on Sunday afternoon.
A 7-0 run put Michigan State within two with just over two minutes to play, but Craft made play after play down the stretch, and the rest of the team hit timely free throws to put the game away late.
Craft led the way for the Buckeyes with 21 points and six assists and took the ball to the basket all afternoon en route to high-percentage shots around the rim. Deshaun Thomas added 14 for Thad Motta's squad, including a pair of clutch corner threes that helped the Buckeyes jump ahead for good.
Michigan State got 12 points (mostly dunks) and 15 rebounds from Adreian Payne, while Harris led the way in scoring with 14. The loss marked the first two-game losing streak of the 2012-13 season for the Spartans.
As noted by Zac Jackson, both the Buckeyes and Spartans were well-represented during AAU games in high school. This lineup is downright scary:
In case anyone was wondering why the AAU team with Jared Sullinger, Aaron Craft and Adreian Payne had a career record of, like, 922-7...— Zac Jackson (@FSOhioZJackson) February 24, 2013
After a huge game, most of our Twitter reaction centers around what Aaron Craft did to take over this game at times. Here's a tweet from Tom Deinhart exemplifying that fact:
Jeremy Werner had a dejecting tweet for the rest of the Big Ten:
You know what will annoy 11 Big Ten fan bases? (And this is a compliment to him) Aaron Craft has one more year left. Such a pest.— Jeremy Werner (@WernerESPNCU) February 24, 2013
Brent Yarina repeated the sentiments of the CBS broadcast crew, commending Harris for yet another quality Big Ten game and putting him in the running for a postseason award:
"You're looking at the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, in my opinion. There's no question." - Clark Kellogg on #Spartans Gary Harris.— Brent Yarina (@BTNBrentYarina) February 24, 2013
And finally, Albert Breer preps us for what is sure to be a thrilling postseason in college basketball:
I'm gonna repeat what School-Up-Norther @richeisen said ... Big Ten tournament is gonna be silly.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) February 24, 2013
After Sunday's game, the Big Ten now has five teams with at least 20 wins. It also has five teams with 10 conference wins. Indiana still leads the way, but Michigan State lost some significant ground and will remain the No. 2 seed in the conference.
With three games left and two against top opponents (No. 7 Michigan, No. 19 Wisconsin), the Spartans will have to dig deep to gain some momentum toward the postseason.
With the win, it appears Ohio State (barring a huge collapse) has clinched a berth in March Madness and a high seed in the conference tournament.
Ohio State has one game circled in bright neon (No. 1 Indiana) left on its schedule, but Illinois will also be a huge game to close out the regular season. Craft and the Buckeyes clearly play their best ball when the emotion is flowing, and they'll need plenty of it after an emotional home win on Sunday.
The end of the 2012-13 season is shaping up to be a great one in the Big Ten. Just think—we haven't even hit March Madness yet.