CHICAGO -- DeShaun Thomas was Ohio State's indispensable man Saturday as the Buckeyes earned a Big Ten championship game berth with a 61-58 victory over Michigan State at the United Center.
The Buckeye forward collected a key offensive rebound with 58 seconds to play, scored on a layup 33 seconds later and added a free throw with nine seconds left as Ohio State stymied a late Spartans comeback.
Thomas scored 16 points and teammate Aaron Craft
had 20 and nine assists as the Buckeyes (25-7) landed a spot against Wisconsin in Sunday's tournament championship. Derrick Nix
topped Michigan State (25-8) with 17 points and nine rebounds, Keith Appling
scored 16 and Adreian Payne
Ohio State jumped in front early in the second half on a Lenzelle Smith Jr. layup but struggled to create breathing room until the the 7:23 mark after Craft hit back-to-back jumpers for a 55-49 lead.
But the Buckeyes couldn't seal the deal. Appling hit a 3-pointer with 3:24 left and Nix added a 3-point play with 1:54 remaining to nearly erase the Ohio State lead.
Trailing 57-56 with 1:27 left in regulation, Michigan State was hit with a flagrant foul, Craft hit a free throw to push the lead to 58-56 and the Buckeyes retained possession.
Shannon Scott's subsequent baseline 3-point try failed, but Thomas secured the offensive rebound. He scored on a layup, added a defensive rebound and hit a free throw for a 61-56 lead.
Michigan State's Denzel Valentine's jumper with one second left narrowed the final margin.
The Spartans led 29-28 at halftime after six lead changes and three ties.
Nix led with 10 points and Payne, Friday's scoring leader, had a slow start but gave the Spartans the halftime edge with a dunk with 1:15 remaining.
Thomas scored a team-high 11 first-half points, despite hitting just 4 of 13 shots from the field. The Buckeyes made just 11 of 32 shots from the field (34.4 percent).
Michigan State's largest lead came early when Payne hit a 3-pointer for a 13-7 lead with 14:03 left in the first half. Ohio State later went up 28-23 after a Thomas jumper with 4:26 left.
The Spartans then closed the half with six straight points.
NOTES: The No. 2 seeded Buckeyes are 21-9 all time in the tournament and coach Thad Motta is 18-5 overall with three championships (2007, 2010 and 2011). ... Chicago was a great location for Michigan State in the tournament's early years. The Spartans won titles in 1999 and 2000 but were 1-1 the last time the tournament was in the Windy City (2007). ... Michigan State is 19-13 in the Big ten tournament, including 3-7 in the semifinals. ... Spartans guard Gary Harris' 13.2 scoring average ranked third among freshman in program history. ... Ohio State's Friday victory over Nebraska was its ninth in 11 meetings and the Buckeyes are 6-0 as a ranked team. ... With 19 points against the Cornhuskers on Friday, Thomas moved to No. 17 on Ohio State's career scoring list with 1,524 points. ... Michigan State still leads the overall series with Ohio State 61-55 but is 2-3 on neutral courts. ... Sunday's title game will be televised nationally on CBS at 3:30 p.m. ET.
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