Michigan State appears headed for the NCAA tournament. Ohio State’s postseason fate is still very much in doubt.
The 17th-ranked Spartans likely hold the Buckeyes’ NCAA tournament hopes in their hands, with these Big Ten rivals squaring off Sunday at Columbus in the first of two meetings over six days.
This game ends the regular season for both teams, though they will meet again Friday at Indianapolis in the second quarterfinal game of the Big Ten tournament.
That matchup is already set because both have earned first-round byes, with Michigan State (24-6, 12-5) having clinched the fourth seed and Ohio State (18-12, 9-8) locked into the fifth seed.
While the Spartans are in good shape to make their 11th straight NCAA tournament, the Buckeyes are in danger of becoming the first team since Syracuse in 1996-97 not to earn a bid after reaching the national championship game the previous season.
Barring a Big Ten tournament title, Ohio State likely needs to post back-to-back wins over the Spartans and possibly pull off at least one more win in the conference tournament to earn serious consideration for an at-large NCAA berth.
A recent four-game losing streak hurt the Buckeyes’ cause, though they snapped that skid Tuesday in Columbus with an 80-77 overtime win over No. 15 Purdue.
It was just the second victory in 10 games this season versus ranked opponents for Ohio State, which also has losses at bottom-tier league teams Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota. The Buckeyes now hope to build off Tuesday’s victory and avoid losing both regular-season meetings with Michigan State.
“Of course, a win like this can help us,” said Buckeyes senior Jamar Butler, who had 25 points versus Purdue. “We’re just going to try to get another one on Sunday and then get a few in the Big Ten tournament, if not win it. And hopefully get in.”
Butler, who averages a team-leading 14.5 points and is shooting 38.5 percent from 3-point range, went 5-for-5 from beyond the arc in the second half Tuesday after missing his only attempt during the first 20 minutes.
Othello Hunter and freshman Evan Turner each added 15 points as the Buckeyes avoided a third straight home loss.
“I’m very proud of our guys - the word we used was resiliency - in staying with it,” said coach Thad Matta, who will try for his 100th win at Ohio State on Sunday.
Butler, who will play his final home game, had 21 points and seven assists in the Buckeyes’ 66-60 loss at Michigan State on Jan. 15. The Spartans overcame a 37.9-percent shooting effort by outrebounding the Buckeyes 46-31 to snap a three-game losing streak in the series.
Michigan State is coming off a 59-51 win at Illinois on Thursday for its second consecutive victory since going 3-4 to fall out of contention for the Big Ten regular-season title.
“I think a few of our guys kind of had their dreams shattered when we had an opportunity to win the league and didn’t,” said coach Tom Izzo, whose Spartans have held opponents to an average of 56.6 points in the last five games. “It’s really a mark of some special guys to get back up.”
Drew Neitzel had 17 points while Goran Suton added 10 points and 10 rebounds Thursday for Michigan State, which overcame a 10-point first-half deficit and illnesses to some key players to snap a four-game road losing streak.
Neitzel had 13 points, five assists and five rebounds against Ohio State earlier this season. The preseason All-American is averaging 22.0 points in his last three games versus the Buckeyes.
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