One week after surviving an awful second half to hold off Michigan State, Ohio State likely can’t afford a bad half in Saturday’s rematch as it tries to become the first visiting team all season to win at East Lansing.
Not that there was any way the fourth-ranked Buckeyes (19-3, 7-1 Big Ten) would have taken this game lightly, but they have all the more reason to be weary of the Spartans (17-6, 4-4) after last Saturday’s matchup in Columbus.
Ohio State nearly blew a 20-point halftime lead before holding on for a 66-64 victory.
“That was a tale of two halves,” Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said. “The first half we played some great basketball. But Michigan State didn’t go away.”
It shouldn’t be much easier this time as Ohio State tries to hand Michigan State its first loss in 15 home games this season. The Buckeyes handed the Spartans one of their only two home losses last season—79-68 on Feb. 22—to snap a 10-game road losing streak in this series.
Adding to the excitement at the Breslin Center for Saturday, Michigan State will retire the jersey of former All-American Mateen Cleaves.
The Buckeyes have won six straight, but hope to play a complete game this time around against the Spartans.
Ohio State shot 63 percent from the field in the first half and led 43-23 at halftime last Saturday, but shot 24 percent in the final 20 minutes and couldn’t stop Michigan State guard Drew Nietzel.
The junior, averaging 18.3 points this season, scored 24 of his 29 points in the second half.
“It was one (performance) that will go down in history,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “He kept making shot after shot. He made some big plays. He’s a big-time player.”
Ohio State star freshman Greg Oden scored 19 points and went 11-for-14 from the free-throw line, including 8-for-10 in the second half, while shooting left-handed as he recovers from ligament damage in his right wrist.
Oden, who averages 15.2 points and 9.5 rebounds, only had nine points and six boards in Wednesday’s 78-60 win at Purdue. Fellow freshmen Mike Conley Jr. had 18 points and six assists and Daequan Cook had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
“We have a lot of threats on this team,” Ohio State senior guard Ron Lewis said. “It’s a transition to add Greg in the center, but we are getting more comfortable with the inside-outside game.”
The Buckeyes shot 52.6 percent from the field and outrebounded the Boilermakers 38-29 while holding the opposition below 70 points for the sixth consecutive game. They are 1-3 this season when giving up more than 70.
Michigan State should be eager to return home after dropping its last two on the road, most recently 57-50 at Illinois on Tuesday.
Nietzel had just 10 points on 2-for-12 shooting as the Spartans shot 37.0 percent from the field and 16.7 percent (2-for-12) from 3-point range.
Michigan State is 1-1 against ranked opponents this season, losing to Ohio State and winning 63-61 over then-No. 19 Texas on Nov. 16. The Spartans have lost their last two games against Top 25 teams in East Lansing.