Andy Gottesman / Multimedia editor
With less than six minutes to go, and No. 2 Ohio State up just five on unranked Michigan State, an errant Spartan pass flew into the backcourt and nine of the 10 players on the floor seemed content to let it roll out of bounds.
OSU freshman point guard Aaron Craft wouldn’t allow it.
Craft chased the ball down. As the Spartans tried to recover, he went up and under the rim for a layup, drew a foul and converted the three-point play. The freshman’s only field goal of the night gave OSU (25-1, 12-1 Big Ten) an eight-point lead and propelled the Buckeyes to a 71-61 victory.
“That’s a heck of a play right there,” senior guard Jon Diebler said after the game. “That’s just someone wanting the win and Aaron is a guy who, he does the little things and that just shows the type of player that he is. That was a huge play.”
The Spartans played most of the game like the team they were projected to be when they entered the season at No. 2. Outscoring the Buckeyes off the bench, 21-1, MSU shot 63 percent from the field in the first half. With freshman forward Jared Sullinger on the bench in foul trouble, MSU matched the Buckeyes shot-for-shot all half.
A basket from senior point guard Kalin Lucas gave MSU a 34-32 lead with 1:30 left in the half, but Buford responded with a 3-pointer, giving OSU the lead, one of 11 lead changes in the first 20 minutes. OSU took that 35-34 lead to halftime, and Buford’s 14 first-half points put him ahead of all scorers.
“We didn’t bring it in the first half,” Buford said. “Our defense wasn’t there and we weren’t together as a team. For the second half we had to pick up the intensity.”
The lead changed hands four more times early in the second half, and a fifth time when a three-point play from fifth-year senior forward David Lighty gave OSU a 45-44 lead. That was the game’s final lead change.
Lighty sparked a 10-2 run, opening up a six-point OSU lead, 52-46. An off-balance, end-of-the-shot-clock 3-pointer from junior forward Draymond Green ended the run, and after a Sullinger free throw, a layup from Lucas cut the lead to two.
Five quick points from Buford gave OSU a 58-51 lead, its biggest to that point, with 8:30 to play. Minutes later, Craft made the play that ignited the sellout crowd at the Schottenstein Center.
“Aaron is like a spark plug for this team,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “I think guys are looking and saying, ‘If he’s going to give that (effort), then I’m going to give that.'”
The Spartans got as close as four down the stretch, but a pair of Sullinger free throws and three from Craft gave OSU an insurmountable 10-point lead with less than two minutes left.
Buford led all scorers with 23 points on 9-for-15 shooting, 3-for-4 from beyond the 3-point line. Sullinger scored 11 points and grabbed a season-low two rebounds. Lighty and Diebler had 12 points each.
Lucas led MSU with 14 points, and although the team shot 57 percent from the floor and outrebounded OSU, its 19 turnovers swung the game in OSU’s favor.
After falling at Wisconsin on Saturday, OSU relinquished the No. 1 rank to Kansas, who lost at Kansas State, 84-68, Monday night. OSU plays again at 1 p.m. Sunday at No. 11 Purdue.