The Michigan State Spartans (23-8, 12-6) lead the Ohio State Buckeyes (23-8, 10-8) at halftime 38-36. They also took the lead with 16:56 left to play in the second half. From that point forward, it was tied four times, but the Spartans never trailed until the Buckeyes took the lead with 37 seconds left. The Spartans went scoreless in the final 4:30 with three turnovers in the final 2 minutes. The Buckeyes found a way to win, and the Spartans found a way to lose. Unfortunately, that has been the trend in Michigan State’s final 12 regular season games as they lost 7 of the 12.
Adreian Payne led the Spartans with 23 points and 8 rebounds. He looked unstoppable at times. However, he looked absolutely gassed in the final 5 minutes of the game. I honestly think he hurt, more than he helped in that span. He had a crucial turnover and gave up an offensive rebound to LaQuinton Ross, both of which I contribute to tiredness. I have seen this from Payne in other games since coming back from his injury. He is without a doubt one of MSU’s best players, but if he is so dead tired that he is hurting them during crunch time, then they need to take him out. I’m not saying take him out for good, but maybe a possession or two to give him the blow he needs to finish the game strong.
Aaron Craft played as inspired as I’ve ever seen in his final home game. As irritating as he may be to play against, he seemed to want it more than anyone else on the floor. Aaron Craft’s day can be summed up in one play. When Adreian Payne missed a three under a minute to go it appeared as if he was going to get his own rebound, but Craft came flying in and dove on the ball before Payne could get to it. That one play showed me that he wanted this win on senior day more than any other player on the floor. He also guarded Gary Harris on the final play of the game and prevented him from hitting a jumper that would have sent the game to overtime. After Sam Thompson missed two free throws, the Spartans raced the ball up the floor with only 6 seconds to play. Harris got the ball, attacked the paint, and pulled up for a jumper just beyond the free throw line. It was a great look, unfortunately for the Spartans, it just didn’t go down. The final score read Ohio State 69, Michigan State 67. In the replay immediately following the game, it clearly showed that Craft had ahold of Harris’ jersey as he rose up to shoot. I guess that about sums up the officiating for the day as well. I am not blaming the loss on the officials by any means, but the calls rarely went in MSU’s favor either. The Spartans were whistled for 22 fouls compared to the Buckeyes 12. Ohio State also shot 31 free throws, compared to Michigan State’s 10. Craft finished with 12 points, 7 assists, and 4 steals on his senior day. LaQuinton Ross lead the Buckeyes with 22 points and 5 rebounds.
In the post-game presser Tom Izzo said, “If any of you think this is the old smash mouth Michigan State team, you’re kidding yourself.” I would have to agree 100%. This team is ultra-talented, but I’m not sure how tough they are. Tom Izzo teams, at least the great ones, have always been tough, hard-nosed, and gritty. I’ve seen those qualities at times with this team, but not on a consistent basis and not when it matters most. The Spartans set a school record for made 3-pointers in a season today, which is a great accomplishment, but I also think it shows what type of team they are. This team is more of a finesse team, and that’s just not a typical Tom Izzo type of team. It doesn’t mean they can’t win playing their style, because they have proved they can do that. They started the season 18-1, and I don’t think anybody was complaining about anything at that point. I know I sure wasn’t. They just have to find a way to make the plays down the stretch consistently.
Gary Harris finished with 12 points, but he also turned his ankle in the second half. Izzo said, “he sprained it a little bit”, but who knows how bad it actually is. Harris was hampered by an ankle injury earlier this season, and that is the last thing the Spartans need is to have their leading scorer miss any time. Hopefully it’s nothing major as Izzo says, and he will be good to go when the Spartans play Friday in the Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals. The Spartans will be the 3-seed, and will play the winner of the (6)Iowa/(11)Northwestern game Friday night at approximately 9:00 pm ET. Ironically, the Spartans were the 3-seed in the Big Ten Tournament last year, Iowa was also the 6-seed, and Northwestern the 11-seed. The Spartans defeated the Hawkeyes in the final game Friday night, and advanced to the semifinals on Saturday afternoon. If Iowa beats Northwestern in the final game on Thursday, then the Spartans would face them for the second time in 8 days. The Spartans defeated the Hawkeyes 86-76 in their final home game this past Thursday.
As great as a win today in Columbus would have been, in the grand scheme of the season, it really doesn’t mean much. It probably would have helped Michigan State’s NCAA seed, however, but there’s no guarantee in that. It also would have given MSU the chance to be the 2-seed, rather than the 3-seed in the Big Ten Tournament, but they also would have needed Wisconsin to lose at Nebraska tonight. Either way, they would have been on the bottom half of the bracket, and would have played Friday night. It would have been nice to play at 6:30 pm rather than 9:00 pm, but again that’s minor in the grand scheme of things. The Spartans need to go home, and do whatever they need to do to regroup this week. They need to show up prepared to play the Iowa Hawkeyes again on Friday night, and be prepared for a dog fight. If the Spartans can get by Iowa or Northwestern (if MSU would get lucky enough to have them upset Iowa), then they could very well get another shot at Wisconsin in the semifinals. And if they could find a way to get to the championship game, they could get another shot at their hated in-state rival Michigan who is the 1-seed. Michigan State is in jeopardy of falling out of the polls for the first time all season, but I honestly don’t think that will happen. I think they will hang on and be anywhere from 22-25 in both the AP and USA Today polls. If the Spartans can find a way to win the Big Ten Tournament, then I believe they can still get a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament. However, if they were to lose their first game in the Big Ten Tournament I could see them ending up as 5 or 6 seed. I believe a 3-seed is their ceiling at this point, and a 6 seed is the worst-case scenario. The Spartans have a lot to prove in Indianapolis, and they have a great opportunity to turn their season around. But it starts Monday back in East Lansing. I still believe this team has a run in them, but only time will tell if that is the reality.