EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan State point guard Kalin Lucas wants to win another Big Ten championship, preferably while extending his reign as the conference’s player of the year.
Evan Turner and Ohio State would like to disrupt those plans when the Buckeyes visit Breslin Center for a key conference game Sunday.
The No. 11 Spartans (21-6, 11-3 Big Ten) had a half-game lead in the Big Ten over red-hot Purdue entering this weekend. No. 9 Ohio State (20-7, 10-4) was in third place, followed closely by Illinois and Wisconsin.
“I know (Turner’s) gonna bring it and their team’s gonna bring it,” Lucas said of Sunday’s matchup. “So we’ll have to bring it, bring our ‘A’ game.”
Turner and Lucas have been near the top of their game most of the season, when they’ve been healthy. Both stars have battled back from injuries to rank among the nation’s best players.
Turner has been spectacular despite missing 4 1/2 weeks with two broken bones in his lower back, the result of a fall after a Dec. 5 dunk attempt against Eastern Michigan. The 6-foot-7 guard leads the Big Ten in scoring at 19.5 points per game and rebounding at 9.2 points per game. He’s widely considered the front-runner to win the Big Ten’s top individual honor this season and could compete for national player of the year.
Lucas - selected as the Big Ten’s top player last season while leading the Spartans to the conference’s regular season title and the NCAA championship game - is rounding back into top shape after spraining an ankle against Wisconsin on Feb. 2.
Lucas leads the Spartans in scoring at 15.7 points per game, but just as important has become a better team leader after gaining some perspective while sidelined with his injury.
Lucas sat on the bench next to coach Tom Izzo, a spot usually reserved for assistant coaches, while missing a Feb. 6 loss at Illinois. Lucas pulled aside teammates for one-on-one chats and was more vocal in team huddles.
“The time I wasn’t playing, what I had to do was think more about being a coach from the floor,” Lucas said. “It has helped me. I’ve been watching more film. What I’m trying to do is just get better.”
Lucas expects to start the Sunday’s game guarding Turner, who has a 6-inch height advantage.
Ohio State is trying to stay in the Big Ten race and bounce back from Wednesday’s 60-57 home loss to Purdue.
“We definitely have to come back and go to work,” Turner said. “It’s another great opportunity.”
The Buckeyes already have shown they can dig out of a hole. They lost three of their first four Big Ten games this season, then won nine straight as Turner got healthy.
“You can’t hang (your heads),” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “When we were sitting at 1-3 (in the Big Ten), there was a great opportunity for us to drop our heads and not continue to work and strive to be better. To these guys’ credit, they kept their foot on the pedal. That’s kind of what we’ve got to do.”
Michigan State figures it will have to win on its home court to remain the Big Ten frontrunner.
“It’s a big game, it’s what you come to college for - to play for championships late in the season,” Izzo said. “That’s all I’m trying to tell them. If we are a league contender, we’ve got to show it this week.”