EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP)—Drew Neitzel flicked his wrist and pumped his fist after finally seeing a 3-pointer go through the net.
It was not just another basket for the preseason All-American, or an ordinary game for No. 11 Michigan State.
Neitzel scored eight of 13 points in the first half, helping the Spartans start strong and regroup from a humiliating performance with a 66-60 victory over Ohio State on Tuesday night.
“Yeah, we made some steps in the right direction—as a team and individuals,” Neitzel said with a smile. “I’m not fully up to my potential, but I’ll get there.
“It was a win, and that’s all we can ask.”
The Spartans (15-2, 3-1 Big Ten) led by as many as 21 points in the first half and held off the Buckeyes in the second in a bounceback game after being held to their lowest point total in more than a half-century.
“It was a big win for us,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
Jamar Butler scored 21 points to give Ohio State (12-5, 3-2) a shot to stay in the game with an inspired second half after making just one-third of its shots in the first half. None of Butler’s teammates scored more than eight points.
“He’s the only one that has been in these battles,” Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said. “None of this is new to him, like it is to the other guys. But we do need other guys to step up and play to their ability.”
Butler made all six of his free throws, extending his streak to an Ohio State-record 31 straight dating to a miss on Dec. 10 against Coppin State. He also became the 43rd player in school history to score 1,000 points and the first Buckeye guard since Brent Darby reached the milestone during his career from 2001-03.
“I just love Jamar Butler because he’s tough,” Izzo said. “I can’t tell you how much we prepped on him, but he still finds a way to get 21 points even as we do as good of a job on him as we could do.”
Michigan State reserve Kalin Lucas scored 13 points and Drew Naymick had a season-high 11, playing key roles following the 43-36 loss at Iowa on Saturday.
Naymick matched a career high with five field goals, but lamented missing two free throws.
“If I’d hit those, I might’ve had the Erin Andrews interview,” Naymick joked, referring to ESPN’s sideline reporter.
Neitzel helped the Spartans open with two runs to take a 27-7 lead and was ahead by 21 points with 3 minutes left in the half. Ohio State rallied to pull with 34-21 at halftime.
The Buckeyes started the second half with a 13-3 run to pull within three, making six of their first seven shots, and didn’t go away quietly despite trailing by eight points with 3 minutes left.
They were behind by five twice in the final minute.
“We have a lot of pride. These guys will never give up,” Butler said. “We’ll keep battling, regardless of the score.”
Ohio State has dropped two straight after winning eight in a row, including a 3-0 record to open Big Ten play. David Lighty, Othello Hunter and Matt Terwilliger all scored eight points for the Buckeyes.
Raymar Morgan, Michigan State’s leading scorer, was held to single digits (six) for the first time this season in 19 minutes. After averaging nearly 18 points, he scored his first points with 13 1/2 minutes left, then picked up his fourth foul and went to the bench for about 8 minutes.
Coming off one of its worst games in years, Michigan State and Neitzel got the strong start they needed.
The Spartans led 11-3 after Neitzel made two 3-pointers and Ohio State made only one of its first nine shots. The senior star entered the game shooting just 27.3 percent from the field, including 18.8 percent from 3-point range, in conference play.
Neitzel finished 3-for-8 on 3-pointers against Ohio State, matching the total he made beyond the arc in 16 attempts in the previous three games.
“The ball was coming off my hand better,” he said. “I was snapping my wrist again, and the wrist felt better than it had.”