By Rusty Miller
COLUMBUS: LaQuinton Ross scored 22 points and Aaron Craft added 12, including a late free throw, to lead Ohio State past No. 22 Michigan State 69-67 on Sunday.
Keith Appling’s jumper with 2 seconds left was off the mark for the Spartans, who failed to score over the final 4:30 as Ohio State scored the game’s final four points.
Adreian Payne scored 23 points, Gary Harris had 12 and Denzel Valentine 11 for the Spartans (23-8, 12-6 Big Ten), who have lost seven of their last 11.
Much-maligned center Amir Williams hit a free throw with 37.2 seconds left to put Ohio State (23-8, 10-8) ahead for good. Craft then added a free throw with 20.9 seconds remaining.
Both teams were seeking some traction heading into the postseason. The Buckeyes had dropped their last two on the road to second-tier Big Ten teams.
Up by two points at halftime, the Spartans fell behind 44-39 on Smith’s back-door pass to Craft for a layup at the 17:40 mark. But the Spartans responded with a 12-0 run.
Harris was the linchpin during the uprising, hitting two 3s from the left corner to give the Spartans the lead and then picked up a loose ball after a miss by Payne and fed the big man for a dunk. Ohio State came down and Travis Trice took the ball from Craft and dunked at the other end to make it 49-44.
After Alvin Ellis III tipped away an Ohio State inbounds pass off a timeout, Harris was fouled at the other end and made both free throws for a seven-point lead.
The Buckeyes didn’t go away, however.
Ross powered in a shot in traffic, Sam Thompson hit a free throw and then took a feed in transition from Craft to pour in a 3 in a 6-0 run to tie things at 58 with over 8 minutes left.
After Ross hit a teardrop in the lane with 3:52 left, the defenses took over. Each team failed to score on its next three possessions.
The Spartans had the ball but Payne lost it to Craft with just over a minute left.
Shannon Scott’s 14-foot jumper went in and out, but Ohio State’s Williams was fouled on the rebound and hit the second of two with 37.2 seconds remaining.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo called a timeout to draw up a play. Appling drove around a double pick and then fed back to Payne, whose 3-pointer at the 27-second mark was short.
Craft rebounded and was tied up, but the alternate-possession arrow favored the Buckeyes.
Craft was fouled and hit the second of his two shots for a 69-67 lead.
The Spartans came down and Valentine spun in the lane to try to get up a shot but lost the ball to Thompson who missed two free throws.
Appling then drove the length of the court and tried an off-balance jumper from 15 feet with 2 seconds left that was off the mark, with Payne unable to control the tip before the buzzer sounded.
Craft pulled the ball away from Appling late in the first half for his 325th steal, a Big Ten record.
First meeting close, too
In the first meeting, on Jan. 7 at East Lansing, Michigan State blew a 17-point lead with over 7 minutes left. The Buckeyes not only forced overtime with a 20-3 closing run but came close to scoring at the buzzer on Scott’s steal and driving layup.
Kenny Kaminski came up huge for the Spartans with three 3-pointers for nine points while Appling had 20 points and Payne 18.
In November the Spartans were ranked No. 2 and were an overwhelming favorite to win the Big Ten. But they lost twice to Michigan and have been beaten down by illnesses and injuries.
The setback at Michigan State in January ended Ohio State’s charmed first half, when it went 15-0 and was ranked No. 3.
Including that loss, the Buckeyes lost five of six, then recovered to win six of their next seven before the two most recent losses, at Penn State and at Indiana.
Heading into the game, each team had won 10 of the last 20 meetings. The last six games were decided by a total of 24 points — and only one by more than four.