Michigan State hasn’t produced a winning streak since mid-January. It’s going to need one now if it wants to win the Big Ten Conference tournament or a national championship.
The 22nd-ranked Spartans traveled to Ohio State for the regular season finale Sunday looking to earn the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament playing only their third game with a full contingent of healthy players since December.
But the Spartans allowed Ohio State to dictate the pace of play and never were able to get out running often enough to earn a second straight victory after beating Iowa on Thursday. The Buckeyes took advantage behind gritty play of point guard Aaron Craft and earned a 69-67 victory.
Craft made two difference-making plays in the final minute that helped the unranked Buckeyes snap a two-game losing streak and enter the Big Ten tournament with some momentum.
Craft dived across the lane to snatch a rebound off a missed jumper by Michigan State big man Adreian Payne with 24 seconds left. In the closing seconds he was defending Denzel Valentine when Valentine attempted to drive and spin for a possible tying shot. Valentine lost his footing against Craft instead leading to a turnover and the Buckeyes win.
It was a fitting way for Craft, a scrappy and heady senior, to cap his final home game. He scored 12 points with seven assists and four steals. LaQuinton Ross led the Buckeyes in scoring with 22.
The Spartans committed 16 turnovers which offset making 10 of 20 3-pointers. Payne scored 23 to pace Michigan State, which went scoreless in the final 4 minutes, 31 seconds.. The Spartans won the first game between the teams in early January when both programs were still ranked in the top five.
Each has since dealt with inconsistency and injuries, though both seem to be finding themselves again with the postseason looming.
Ohio State coach Thad Matta said before the game this week that he thought his team had confidence and toughness issues to address. Neither seemed to be a problem down the stretch Sunday and Matta, Craft and the rest of the Buckeyes go into the postseason winners in eight of their final 10 regular season games.