COLUMBUS, Ohio (DETROIT FREE PRESS) – For stretches today at Value City Arena, Michigan State looked like the team it wants to be in the postseason.
For the most important stretch, the Spartans were a mess. No. 22 MSU went scoreless for the final 4:30 on Senior Day at Ohio State, and OSU senior Aaron Craft made key defensive plays late to help the Buckeyes to a 69-67 comeback victory.
MSU (23-8, 12-6 Big Ten) will have the No. 3 seed in the Big Ten tournament and play at about 9 p.m. Friday in Indianapolis against the winner of Thursday's 6-11 game.
Gary Harris missed a jump shot at the buzzer that would have tied it for MSU. He had 12 points, all in the second half. Adreian Payne scored 23 and Denzel Valentine had 11.
LaQuinton Ross scored 22 points to lead OSU (23-8, 10-8), and Craft scored 12 to help the Buckeyes split the season series with the Spartans.
MSU led, 38-36, after an entertaining first half and despite the fact that Valentine and Branden Dawson missed the last half of the first half with two fouls apiece. Each picked up No. 3 within the first 63 seconds of the second, and then Keith Appling quickly got to his third.
MSU fell behind, 44-39, but then Harris got the Spartans back ahead with consecutive triples – his first points of the game, the first three giving MSU a single-season school record for triples with 254.
That Harris flurry started MSU on a 12-0 run to go up, 51-44. But the Buckeyes used MSU turnovers and some tough Ross shots to get back into the game.
It finally came down to the game tied at 67 and less than 2 minutes left. MSU tried to go inside to Payne, but he was doubled hard – for the first time all day – and lost the ball trying to dribble amid three defenders.
OSU's Amir Williams then got an offensive rebound at Payne's expense, was fouled and hit one foul shot with 37.2 seconds left to make it 68-67 Buckeyes. It was OSU's first lead since a 44-42 edge early in the second half.
MSU came out of a time-out with a three-point look for Payne, but OSU's Sam Thompson flew at him, forcing an adjustment and a line drive that barely got rim. Craft dove to the floor to grab the loose ball. But he made just one of two foul shots with 20.9 seconds left to make it 69-67.
Valentine then turned it over trying to drive on Craft, falling down and losing the ball. But Thompson missed both foul shots with 6.9 seconds left, leading to Harris' final miss.
Contact Joe Rexrode: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @joerexrode. Check out his MSU blog at freep.com/heyjoe.