Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
It normally spells doom for Ohio State when Deshaun Thomas struggles from the field, but Aaron Craft was there to pick up his slack against Michigan State Sunday – and then some.
Craft sliced through the MSU defense and made a routine of getting to the rim on his way to 21 points (17 of which came in the second half) to help the Buckeyes secure a rare win against a ranked opponent.
The junior guard shot 7-of-12 from the field and also dished out six assists in the 68-60 OSU victory.
“(During the) second half he tore us apart,” Spartan coach Tom Izzo said of Craft’s performance. “He beat us every way you could beat us.”
The win was OSU’s (20-7, 10-5) second in nine attempts against ranked teams this season and could prove to be valuable to bolster its NCAA Tournament resume.
“This time of the year, we need to get something rolling,” Craft said. “The biggest thing is that we got a win against a great opponent. It doesn’t matter who scores, all that matters is that our team has more points at the end of the game. Hopefully, we can continue this going forward.”
The Spartans (22-6, 11-4) led by six at halftime and nine early in the second half, but three 3-pointers, including two from Thomas, and a three-point play from sophomore center Amir Williams fueled an 18-4 OSU run that gave the Buckeyes a 45-40 lead it would never relinquish.
Thomas, a junior forward, finished the game with 14 points on 4-of-16 shooting and added seven rebounds.
“We made some shots,” said OSU coach Thad Matta. “I told my players at halftime we had some great looks, but we have to put the ball in the basket. Defensively, we challenged Michigan State to defend us.”
OSU capitalized defensively too, forcing the Spartans into 14 turnovers that the Buckeyes turned into 19 points.
MSU’s gameplan was clear from the get-go. Izzo’s squad fed the ball into the post early and often and MSU’s big men were able to capitalize. Junior forward Adreian Payne scored 12 points and grabbed 15 boards while senior forward Derrick Nix added 12 points and six boards of his own.
MSU’s first 10 points of the game came in the paint and by halftime, the Spartans scored 24 points inside the key.
But OSU’s senior forward Evan Ravenel was able to mitigate the damage as he scored 10 points of his own and was a physical presence defensively inside.
“I know Payne and Nix were the focus of the Michigan State offense today,” said Ravenel, who was wearing an ice pack on his right wrist after the game for what he called a minor injury. “They were killing us on the boards. My drive to win the game and be physical was what drove me today to do what I needed to do for my team.”
The win caps a successful week for OSU. Following a 22-point loss to Wisconsin that was OSU’s worst defeat since 2009, OSU beat Minnesota by 26 points Wednesday.
“We came off our loss against Wisconsin and knew we had to win,” Thomas said. “When we become a defensive team, we put ourselves in the best position to win.”
The Buckeyes sit in fifth place in the Big Ten and 2.5 games back of first-place Indiana.
OSU next plays Thursday against Northwestern in Evanston, Ill. Tip is set for 7 p.m.