With a spot in the Big Ten championship on the line, No. 10 Ohio State battled No. 8 Michigan State to a fitting 61-58 win that went down to the wire—much like nearly ever other conference game this season.
This one was as thrilling, competitive and scintillating as you would expect a 2013 Big Ten semifinal to be.
The Buckeyes' Aaron Craft had an unstoppable second half, and Deshaun Thomas knocked down a key jumper in the waning seconds to set up a championship battle with Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon.
When big man Adreian Payne knocked down a three-pointer in the first half, Michigan State took the 13-7 lead, which was the largest the margin would be for nearly the entire game.
That's it. Six points.
Naturally, after the Spartans established that commanding lead, Ohio State scored seven straight. From there, it was a back-and-forth battle for the next 25 minutes.
Thanks to some cold shooting from the outside by the Buckeyes, Michigan State entered the break with a 29-28 lead.
But then began The Aaron Craft Show.
The scrappy point guard normally known for his white-on-rice, on-ball perimeter defense caught fire on the offensive end. Craft scored 17 of OSU's 27 initial second-half points and assisted on three of the other four baskets.
He was literally the Buckeyes' entire offense as they moved out to a 55-47 lead with seven minutes to play.
Tom Izzo's squad fought back to cut the deficit to 57-56, but after a flagrant foul on Derrick Nix, Craft made a free throw and Thomas buried a mid-range jumper with 25 seconds left to put the game out of reach.
Craft finished with 20 points, three rebounds, nine assists and four steals to pace Ohio State, while Nix and Keith Appling combined for 33 in the losing effort.
If you want a reason for why the Buckeyes turned things around in the second half, just take a look at the contrast of the next two stats. The first comes from The Columbus Dispatch's Bob Baptist:
Bob Baptist @BBaptist_30_
14 of #Buckeyes' 32 field goal attempts first half were 3s. Not a good percentage for them. Spartans defense probably a factor. #buckbk2013-3-16 21:13:12
Now this one, courtesy of Eleven Warriors' Kyle Rowland:
Kyle Rowland @KyleRowland
Buckeyes still have 11-0 advantage in fast break points.2013-3-16 21:42:57
When the Buckeyes looked to attack the basket whenever possible, the offense opened up considerably.
Of course, Craft having one of the best offensive halves of his career also helps. College Basketball Talk's Rob Dauster kept it simple:
Rob Dauster @RobDauster
Aaron Craft is playing some great basketball today.2013-3-16 21:49:51
This is also beneficial for the Buckeyes (via Josh and Mike, aka Big Ten Geeks):
Big Ten Geek @bigtengeek
OK, we have a new low-water mark for inbounding futility. Congrats, Adreian Payne.2013-3-16 22:04:01
If you missed what happened, Payne bowled the ball inbound like he was Andrew Bynum in an attempt to save time, but none of his teammates were looking. He was forced to foul Shannon Scott to stop the easy layup.
Finally, Yahoo! Sports' Brad Evans predicts what this nail-biter means for each team's Big Dance seed:
Brad Evans @YahooNoise
Real-time React: Buckeyes elevate to last No. 2 seed, replacing Michigan St., which slides to highest No. 3. VCU sticks as No. 7.2013-3-16 22:17:59