The Big Ten conference may not be nearly as deep as it was in the 2012-13 season, but Tuesday night's matchup between No. 3 Ohio State and No. 5 Michigan State felt a lot like last year, when seemingly every matchup produced a scintillating battle.
Ohio State put together a 20-3 run in the final 7:05 of regulation to force overtime at the Breslin Center, but Keith Appling responded with a clutch late three and some key free throws to propel the Spartans to a 72-68 win.
Thad Matta had some thoughts on the game, via Ohio State athletic's Twitter feed:
More Matta: "... in this caliber to start the game. Give Michigan State credit. They did a great job defending us." #GoBucks— Ohio State Buckeyes (@OhioStAthletics) January 8, 2014
The Big 10 Network provided a few highlights from the action:
Appling finished with a game-high 20 points, seven assists and six rebounds, while a gimpy Adreian Payne had 18 and six boards off the bench.
Sam Thompson, who was key in the Buckeyes' thrilling comeback, led OSU with 18 points and eight rebounds, and five other players chipped in at least seven points for Thad Matta's squad in the balanced effort.
The first half was equal parts stingy defense, sloppy offense and physical play that the refs let go.
Both teams combined to shoot just 35.7 percent from the field, while only eight total fouls were called, leading to a low-scoring half.
The difference was in Ohio State's inability to hold onto the ball, as the Buckeyes turned the ball over 10 times, giving Michigan State a 9-0 advantage in fast-break points and a 28-21 lead at the break.
Ohio State cut that lead to five at the 14:45 mark when Amir Williams converted a three-point play, but then it was time for the Adreian Payne Show to begin.
Payne, who didn't start because he was supposed to be limited by a foot sprain, threw down two put-back dunks in a matter of a minute, sending the Breslin Center into a frenzy and sparking a 15-4 Spartans run.
The Big Ten Network gives us a look at both rim-rattling slams:
Payne knocked down a three and Appling added a layup a couple plays later, putting the Spartans ahead, 55-38, with just 8:06 remaining.
It would hardly be a Big Ten Top Five matchup without some drama, though.
Ohio State increased the pressure and made a furious comeback in the final moments, putting together a 20-3 run behind Shannon Scott's stingy defense, a bunch of Sam Thompson transition buckets at the rim and some clutch plays from Craft.
After diving to recover a loose ball with under a minute remaining, Craft cut the lead to one with a layup after throwing the inbounds pass to himself off Payne's back:
Amir Williams used a put-back dunk to tie the game with 21 seconds remaining, and on the subsequent possession Scott picked up a steal, but his game-winning layup attempt rimmed off, sending the game to overtime.
Thompson knocked down a three to tie the game with 1:13 remaining in the extra session, but Appling, who looked far from 100 percent healthy, calmly knocked down a huge three of his own and three free-throws to seal the victory.
Aaron Craft, Ohio State: B+
Craft was his typical bothersome self on defense. Although he recorded just one steal, he hounded Michigan State's guards all night and forced several turnovers.
Early in the first half, he showed how you can make an impact outside the box score, running down Denzel Valentine and stopping a fast-break basket, courtesy of Big Ten Network's Brent Yarina:
VIDEO: This, kids, is why your coach tells you to hustle. All the time. WATCH Aaron Craft - http://t.co/KE7MaFeQtc— Brent Yarina (@BTNBrentYarina) January 8, 2014
Offensively, Craft was stifled for much of the game. Michigan State shut down the lane, and the senior point guard finished with just nine points (on eight shots) and six assists to go with his first four turnovers of Big Ten play.
Still, for as inconsistent as his first 35 minutes were, he made several clutch plays down the stretch on both ends of the floor that helped the Buckeyes complete their comeback.
Keith Appling, Michigan State: A-
In the highly anticipated point-guard battle, Appling didn't disappoint.
The Detroit native handled Craft's defense with aplomb, finishing with seven assists. He also scored the ball efficiently, dropping 20 points on 11 field-goal attempts, and added six rebounds in the complete performance.
Appling's final line isn't going to set the world on fire, and he struggled a bit down the stretch, but he stepped up and drilled the game-winning three when the Spartans needed him most.
Amir Williams, Ohio State: B+
It was a tale of two halves for Williams.
During the first 20 minutes, the Ohio State big man pulled down some rebounds but otherwise looked lackadaisical. He was pushed around on defense and had loads of trouble handling the ball in the post, resulting in three turnovers.
In the second half, though, he played with a new-found energy and aggression. He recorded three blocks, played very strong defense in the post and looked more active on the offensive glass.
He finished with eight points and 11 rebounds.
Gary Harris, Michigan State: B+
On a night when most seemed to struggle on the offensive end, Harris was solid in that area. He knocked down shots from beyond the arc, scored from mid-range and was effective in transition, showing off his silky-smooth offensive game that has most NBA scouts drooling.
He seemed to disappear at times, but Harris still finished with 13 points, five rebounds, three assists, three steals, a block and really solid defense in the all-around performance.
The Buckeyes return home to host Iowa, which just fought Wisconsin tough in Madison, on Sunday, Jan. 12. The Spartans host Minnesota a day earlier.